Hedon – Priyanka Mookerjee

This book was sent to me by Penguin Random House, India in exchange of a fair review

According to Wicktionary –

Hedon – (economics) A unit of pleasure used to theoretically weigh people’s happiness.

This is a coming of age novel about the slightly fat, incredibly intelligent, extremely cynical, brooding Tara, whose life changes the day she meets her prince charming on the banks of a river. Every pursuit from there onward is fuelled by his memory and the desire to, possibly, one day tell him what she feels.

The cover of the book is spectacular – pitch black with a fluorescent pink butterfly and the quote, ‘We will always be fire or nothing at all’ – promising some delicious dark secrets lurking within its pages.

Some Spoilers Ahead

Once you dive into the book, you quickly realize it’s the age-old story of the poor little rich kid. What you don’t figure out is what direction the author will choose to take this story. Tara goes to an elite school, has globetrotting parents, a lovable younger brother and great friends to boot. One night while attending a wedding at a palatial hotel, she wanders off alone to get away from the judgmental aunties and ends up on the banks of the river flowing past the hotel. As she stands alone contemplating deep philosophical questions, a man comes up and begins chatting to her. His conversation is interesting, he looks gorgeous and he then asks her to dance – right there in the moonlight without music except for the tunes playing in their heads. Ah! Higher mortals would have succumbed to the ecstasies of love at so much provocation and Tara is just a teenage girl. That Jay, the gentleman in question, cannot realize what effect his shenanigans will have on the tender heart of a hormonal 17 year old is unpardonable.

Tara is shown to be obsessed with the idea of going abroad, believing that the freedom she craves for awaits her there. Her move to America and the subsequent downward spiral becomes agonizing to read after a while. Sadly, at no point in the story apart from the scene at the river did I feel a connection with the protagonist. Her ‘rebel without a cause’ attitude was laid on much too thick after a bit to be enjoyable anymore as were the problems with ‘existential angst’. Also, all the bits and pieces that simply add to the ‘angst’ without any explanations become highly frustrating – the unseen wolf’s unknown dark deeds or the reason for Cookie’s father doing what he did. I loved Polo though.

That being said, there is no doubt that her writing is extraordinary. The prose is dripping with gems that make you go back and read lines again just for the sheer pleasure of imbibing the words into your brain properly. The story makes me think she must be pretty young and yet the depth of the prose is so well-etched it seems to be an old mind at work. But perhaps, succumbing to cliché I conclude, it’s those formidable Bengali genes she carries, manifesting themselves in all their intellectual glory.

But, don’t go by my review, read the review the author has written for herself in her book itself. It is wonderfully written and conveys exactly what I was feeling by that time. I laughed out loud at the audacity of this girl when I read it even as I nodded along with every critique she had for herself.

I am certainly looking forward to her next, where I hope to read a stronger storyline coupled with her great narrative style. She certainly knows where people will have problems with her work and the fact that she has still gone ahead to tell the story that she wanted to tell is laudable and gutsy.

Next time though, next time…

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