Why K.R. Meera’s ‘Jezebel’ is not exactly a ‘good bad book’

This feminist novel resorts to tricks of popular narratives to create an unputdownable story for a larger readership

GN Bureau | October 12, 2022


#culture   #gender   #feminism   #literature   #fiction   #K.R. Meera   #society  


Jezebel
By K.R. Meera
(Translated from the Malayalam by Abhirami Girija Sriram and K.S. Bijukumar)
Hamish Hamilton, 400 pages, Rs 599

‘Jezebel’, K.R. Meera’s latest novel to be published in English, has two things going for it – feminism and a compulsive narrative. In between, a predilection for melodrama leaves no scope for nuances. A lively soap opera that would be highly popular is what this novel aims to be.

That, however, is not intended as a charge against the novel. Indeed, Meera could be charting a new territory in making intentional and careful use of the ingredients from popular narrative structures to draw the attention of indifferent bystanders and engage them in a difficult conversation.

The novel itself confesses the soap opera part: “John’s wedding was a frugal affair. George Jerome Marakkaran stood ramrod stiff, hands clasped behind his back, chin tilted up at a hundred-and-twenty degrees. In his sandalwood-coloured silk jibba and gold-bordered mundu, he looked every bit the father in television serials.” He is no exception; almost all characters and situations befit TV serials. There are no surprises, no nuances, no gray between black and white.   

Before ‘Sooryane Aninja Oru Sthree’ was published in 2018, the Malayalam author had given the gist of it in these words: “The book tells a story of the conflict between a woman, her body, family, the church and the law. The title is from ‘Woman Clothed in Sun’ in the Bible’s Book of Revelation.” (Read a short conversation with Meera from 2016: https://www.governancenow.com/news/regular-story/conversation-writer-kr-meera)

Jezebel, a young doctor, has all the joys and happiness of her life taken away from her when she marries the wrong man. He might have his own reasons for being morose, but he does not even once show any affection towards her. His father, straight from TV serials, is only worse. Mother-in-law, however, is kind-hearted even if meek, and she too sticks to those adjectives till the end. Jezebel’s parents, too, are characters who refuse to come out of clichés. The result is a series of unfortunate events, and they all end up in a family court for divorce.

The court hearings frame the narrative, with the (very filmy) lawyer’s dramatic queries triggering flashbacks, each a tale of blood-curdling misery, shocking injustice or unbearable trauma – a veritable catalogue of the woes of a half of the world even in this day and age. Each ordeal leads the reader to the next in a highly skilfully woven narrative that becomes unputdownable after the opening.

That, arguably, is what Meera is aiming for, getting every reader to care for the fate of the characters no matter how stereotypical they might be. Indeed, their being stereotypes helps in making the story universal, whereas nuances and specifics might have pulled the project in the other direction.

Jezebel’s travails unfold at a fiery pace, aided by smooth prose. The translation by Abhirami Girija Sriram and K.S. Bijukumar has not a single jarring note; and choice of right words, especially verbs, makes the writing supple.

While Meera’s story-telling abilities are way above average, the simplistic treatment may mar the reading experience for a few readers. Paradoxically, that is what may compel the kind of readers who don’t bother about ‘feminism’ and ‘patriarchy’ to keep reading this novel till the end, and even think through it.

Orwell (via G.K. Chesterton) called ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ a “good bad book” – “the kind of book that has no literary pretensions but which remains readable when more serious productions have perished”. Jezebel is not bad, it’s a very good somewhat-above-average book.
 

Comments

 

Other News

Mumbai Airport: Less congestion, fewer delays, says MoCA

Mumbai is one of busiest airports in India, handling a large volume of domestic and international flights including military, non-scheduled and general aviation flights. Mumbai`s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (CSMIA) has two intersecting runways which cannot be operated

“900 tenders worth Rs 150 crore?” For ward-level works: BMC

BrihanMumbai municipal corporation is floating nearly 900 tenders worth of Rs 150 crore in the next 10 days, but that is only for ward-level civic works, the BMC clarified on Monday, reacting to reports in a section of media.    “Since there are 25 wards in BMC, it involves m

Elections 2024: Banks, post offices to chip in for voter education

In a first-of-its-kind initiative, Election Commission of India (ECI) on Monday signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with two prominent organisations, the Indian Banks’ Association (IBA) and the Department of Posts (DoP), to amplify its voter outreach and awareness efforts ahead of the forthcom

Charming tales of the Snakeman’s early years

Snakes, Drugs and Rock ’N’ Roll: My Early Years By Romulus Whitaker with Janaki Lenin HarperCollins, 400 pages, Rs 699

Gripping graphic narrative helps make sense of pandemics past

The Moral Contagion By Julia Hauser and Sarnath Banerjee HarperCollins, 140 pages, Rs 699 The world has lar

“Globally, there is unprecedented positivity for India”

Addressing the Viksit Bharat Viksit Uttar Pradesh program in Lucknow on Monday, prime minister Narendra Modi launched 14,000 projects across the state, worth more than Rs 10 lakh crore at the fourth groundbreaking ceremony of UP Global Investors Summit held in February 2023. The projects relate to sectors

Visionary Talk: Amitabh Gupta, Pune Police Commissioner with Kailashnath Adhikari, MD, Governance Now


Archives

Current Issue

Opinion

Facebook Twitter Google Plus Linkedin Subscribe Newsletter

Twitter