I thoroughly enjoyed Schroff’s debut novel. I can’t share specifics about the moment I knew that I had fallen in book-love without spoiling, but essentially the tone fell into place for me about a third of the way into the novel and it never disappointed me thereafter. Not that I should be too worried about “spoiling” this book – it isn’t a novel based on solving a mystery of any sort. Certain plot points unfold in ways both predictable and delightful (if a little gruesome – the topic is, after all, murder in most cases). Some books have a strong sense of place – this is a novel with a strong sense of tone.
Geeta is an assumed widow – her husband left her five years ago, vanishing without a trace. Most people in her village further assume that she murdered him, although no one has any proof of that. Given her husband Ramesh’s absence, Geeta is able to reflect on their marriage and is slowly concluding that Ramesh was an abusive drunk, and she’s likely better off without him. Over the course of her short marriage, both of Geeta’s parents died (leaving her and Ramesh with a great deal of unexpected debt), and she had a falling out with her best friend since childhood, Saloni. Her isolation after Ramesh’s disappearance deepens, as many in the village now fear her.
Despite her near-outcast status, she participates in a microloan group with other women in the village, which allows her to create a pretty thriving business selling wedding jewelry. She has saved enough of her earnings to hopefully purchase a refrigerator. One evening, a woman from her microloan group approaches her to ask for help, as she assumes Geeta has a specific skill set – Farah wants help killing her husband. Like most of the husbands in the village, her husband is often drunk and abusive, and he’s stealing her money regularly. He’s also abusing her children, which raises the stakes.
As Geeta struggles with the tension between her own moral code and the lack of morality of these men around her, she also confronts her own abusive marriage, and her emerging romantic desires. The plot thickens in every way – the requests from women in her village become increasingly more urgent, and the ethical lines are never very clearly drawn. The book covers a truly wide swath of issues – domestic abuse, rape, murder, friendship drama, social castes, tension between religions, the patriarchy (trigger warnings apply). Despite the weighty topics, the book remains light and often funny. I found myself questioning characters and relationships, but still very invested early on.
I do not feel that I am qualified to speak to some criticism of the novel related to its portrayal of Indian villages – it’s not entirely flattering, especially towards males. I can’t speak to whether or not this is a realistic or even fair portrayal. As a story, I can say that it does at times feel a bit heavy-handed (the absolute villainy of some of the men here was almost TOO much – some characters had essentially no redeeming qualities, or at least seemed to act in evil ways without a great deal of consideration). However, as a novel, I found this book to be fun, and sometimes that outweighs the necessity of being accurate. It’s not that it doesn’t take the subject matter seriously – it’s just that it does not devolve into preaching. As surprising as it might seem, this novel about murder and devastating social circumstances was a truly good time.