Sometimes, you read a book and you don’t know why you don’t like it. All the pieces fit, it should be a great book. Well-written, good story, interesting characters. And yet there’s something cold about it, it never manages to engage you. Is it the book, you ask, or is it me? Maybe there’s just something wrong with me. That’s how I felt when I read The Tiger’s Wife. I really felt like I should have loved it but somehow it was a struggle up to the very last page.
The Girl in the Garden is quite the opposite. It’s the kind of book where, while you know why you like it, you don’t know why you like it as much as you do. It hooked me early and kept me hooked. I was so addicted to it that I ended up reading it far too fast, skimming over the lovely writing because the story kept dragging me along. I liked it so much that I will have to read it again, very soon, to make up for what I missed in my hurry to finish it. It’s the kind of book where, although it’s the perfect length, I somehow want more. I want to know more of the characters, particularly Tulasi. Just when you think the book might indulge in a bit of Secret Gardenish empowerment, everything is ripped apart.
There is of course a problem with having a ten year old narrator. The story has to be seen from ten year old eyes and I think that necessitates that some characters are underdeveloped. It was well-executed and addictive, but this is probably why it feels like some characters are a bit flat – Sadhana Aunty and Dev, in particular, were the main villains of the story. It’s implied that at least Sadhana Aunty has some depth, but not explored. The grandfather, dead during the time of the story, was actually one of the most intriguing characters.
Basically, it’s a wonderful story that works myth into a pretty logical ten year old’s perception of reality in a very real way. Most of the characters are a blend of likeable and non-likeable traits, and each fairly unique. It’s charming and effective and nicely written – poetic at the moments you expect poetry and straightforward when the story is simply advancing.
Spoilers after cut.
The death of Gitanjali, I think, was incredibly well-written, with the terrified young girls certain they had seen a ghost while later, it was crystal clear to Rakhee that she had seen Gitanjali’s suicide. It’s a lovely blend of the sensibility to myth in times of high emotion and the emergence of the rational brain that understands even before you are conscious of it. Well done.