Not Near The Far Field

The Far Field

The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book has everything to recommend it: a flawed protagonist, a parent that puts the “fun” in dysfunctional, a foreign setting beset by war that I am unfamiliar with, a clash of cultures, a mystery, and it was a Book of the Month selection. You’re probably waiting for the BUT. Here it is: BUT, it just didn’t do it for me; it was like soup missing an ingredient that would pull it all together– salt? thyme? After a while I gave up trying to identify the missing flavor and stopped eating entirely– 100 pages short of a 432 page book. In the hands of a more seasoned author, this story could have been told in 332 pages.

The novels centers around a thirty year old woman named Shalini who reflects on her childhood with an eccentric, hard-nosed mother and an earnest, hard-working father in India. Her mother develops a relationship with a garment salesman from Kashmir, and their relationship propels Shalini, years later, to go to Kashmir to find out whatever happened to him. She travels from the cosmopolitan Bangalore to the war-torn Kashmir, and even though she is both completely uninteresting and out of her depth, she is befriended and taken in by families in the area where more trouble is brewing. The story is told through the narrative of her childhood and the narrative of her time in Kashmir, and I am going to guess that the mysteries of her mother and the mysteries of the man will come to a head in the last few pages and the reader will gasp and look up in shock at the revelations. That reader is not me.

I hate to give a two star rating and not good review of this book. It’s Madhuri Vijay’s debut novel and it feels like a labor of love. I wish she had written a shorter novel; once a book goes beyond the 350 page mark, an author needs to ask herself if the story really warrants such length. If an author is going to demand such time from a reader, it better be one hell of a story. This novel is easy to read, but it drags on. There is an attempt to build suspense, but because it is so long, the pacing is off and the plot felt episodic. None of the characters, beyond the mother, are very memorable, and at one point a character’s name was mentioned and I had to sit there for a bit trying to recall that person. Ultimately, I gave up trying to remember because I did not care. I wish the editor sat Vijay down and worked to make it shorter; there’s a good story here, but I just lack the patience, and finally the interest, to finish.

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