The Monochrome Madonna : Review

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Book    : The Monochrome Madonna
Author  : Kalpana Swaminathan
Genre`  :  Detective Fiction
Published by : Penguin India
Year     :  2010
Cover   :  Bland 

The book promises to be a brisk thriller of deceit and intrigue with Lalli , the detective, at her most astute as she interprets the nuances of a murder without  motive. 

...and, it turns out to be anything but brisk! 
What started off as a promising story with Raphael's Madonna as an interwoven theme with a puzzling hint, ended completely damp and unfaithful to its title and the opening lines.

The Plot
 Sitara called Lalli's niece Sita whispering "I think I am going to die"... Sita rushed to Sitara's aid only to found a burly stranger sprawled on Sitara's dining room floor with blood oozing from his head. Sitara was drugged and hazy, her wimpy husband at office and Lalli out of station.Now it's up to Sita to observe the scene and make the most of this mystery.
The development is too elaborate, maddeningly tangled and twisted and, the solution is not at all satisfying. 

CHARACTERS
Sitara's character is way too quirky with a twisted psyche. It's not that such people don't exist but she was neither believable, nor understandable. If readers can believe in beautiful witches flying on pine branches,then Sitara is just another lady-next-door. So, a little more effort from the author's part could have turned her character as a layered and rich one instead of a confusing and tangled mass of idiosyncrasies.
Besides Sitara, Lalli and Sita, Vinay(Sitara's husband), Savio (Lalli's partner), Ramona (Lalli's friend)Parikshit (Ramona's boyfriend) , the victim (Sanat Verma)............are aimless people sleep-walking in and out of chapters with Lalli the smartest, knowing the culprit right away from the start aka Miss Marple style (who is 100 times better) and keeping it till end aka Hercule Poirot style. (eyes rolling)

Writing Style
Ms.Swaminathan has a flair for words,razor sharp and nuanced. An example -
"I would have said mean but cruel would do'.
'Are you sure?" There's more here then semantics.Meanness provokes contempt.Cruelty baffles.Which was it?"
AND

"Rashmi had a grudging note of admiration in her voice when she spoke about him. It was admiration, not tenderness. There was no  sentiment, no memory of a shared life in Rashmi's manner or in her words. Her admiration for him was purely- intellectual. "

The chapter about the roses of Sita's parents is bee..autiful  but hinders the story. The writer has a graceful and lyrical style of writing making prose flow like poetry balmy, velvety and soft. It has an ephemeral quality to it.
Despite having many blissful moments as some one who gobbles words, I found  the narration tedious and confusing at places. 

THE Let-Downs SUMMED UP-
1. No plot at all - Ought to be more structured and tight.
2.Tedious Narration - length does not matters if we like what we read.
3.Sitara too quirky : Lalli too smart- which she certainly is not.
5.The Monochrome Madonna - I rue and cry for the wastage of it. Either I am still in dark and have not grasped something too cerebrally and hence slippery for me, or the Madonna provided no clue other then Sitara's stone face and  heart.

VERDICT
Read if you wish to experience a kaleidoscope of words, phrases and ideas. 
But remember the dominating colour will be monochrome. Ouch!

8 comments:

  1. INTERESTING READ ABOUT THE NUANCED THRILLING PLOT STRUCTURE.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Uppal Ji... your kind words mean a lot to me :)

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  2. Thanks Kokila :). It is rare to find an honest review on a book. Helps make a decision better :)

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    1. Thanks Vinay.. but you are the one who is inspiring us all here to avoid diplomacy and go for transparency of thoughts and deeds to avoid conflicts and become baggage free! Am just following your directions : Thanks again for the comment and being here.

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  3. I was so very attracted in the beginning seeing the genre...as it's my favourite ..but after reading the whole review....felt disappointed :-P .... I think seldom one looks for artful , bombastic language in a thriller or murder mystery... and you said " ouch " ..so no way..

    A neat , incisive and honest review... :-) thanks for that...

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    1. yeah Mnaiparna... its too tangled and insipid.
      ouch! because there is alreday a dearth of Indian Crime/detective writers that too Female that too with command on language..... that finding it lack-lustre did hurt :( .. Thanks for stopping by dear:)

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  4. Looks an interesting read indeed.....................

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Debopam for stopping by and your invitation to join.... will definitely visit the space and let you know :)

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