Author: Supriya Dravid
Publisher: Random House India
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A fictional memoir dipped in intoxication, A Cool, Dark Place is an attempt to understand people curtained with layers and layers of secrets. The novel explores the dystopian relationship of Zef’s mother and the imaginatively composed character of Don, her grandfather.
Right from the first chapter in which a funeral is shown, the reader will grasp the dark and gritty mood of the novel. This mood continues till the very end, creating a numb feeling towards the harshness of its characters. The novel is written in first person, through the eyes of Zef, as her mother reveals deep secrets of people around her, especially Don. The narrative takes place in roughly three weeks of Don’s coma, as Zef and her mother stay with him in his hauntingly old mansion in Madras.
Every character in the book, except Zef, is layered. Each one of them has a dark side, and the novel explores just that. Though all of them stand on their own pedestal, it is Don who is marvellously created. While the novel majorly defines the life of Zef’s mother, Don’s part in that dominates the pages of the narrative. Even though he seems unreal and far-fetched at times, his character is the one the reader will look forward to experiencing. He is a drunk, self-obsessed war veteran, who seemingly develops nonchalant relationships with people around him, though his regrets and clarifications in between are explained in detail. In most books, a narrator acquires a firm position by telling the story, but here Zef is only limited to the ‘What’s or ‘Then’s of the plot, and thus not a necessity to the plot. I wish Dravid would have chosen a different structure and form and then the novel might have been more likable in that context.
It’s not easy to categorise this novel as good or bad. Even those people, who crave to read tragedies, may not find this one quite appetizing, though the backbone of the novel is made up of a series of black twists and turns. When Dravid pulls off the first bomb of the book, revealing that Zef’s father is not her real father, it defiantly attracts the reader to find out more about the characters. But as one flips through the pages, one gets used to the obtuse nature of the relationships between Zef’s mother and people around her, and as the reader crawls towards the final pages holding the last twist of the plot, the reader is left with a feeling of indifference. Perhaps all the major shocks of the novel would have made their impact, had Dravid toned down the general complexity in the nature of the characters. Also, making everybody having dark shades seems a bit unreal.
Dravid’s writing, also, shines in parts. There are times when the reader might feel a little awkward regarding the chronology of events. Though Dravid absolutely concentrates on her characters rather than the plot, it cannot be ignored that the era and the environment in the book is not sufficiently detailed, leaving the reader to assume certain things on his own. The author’s pen peaks whenever she describes drunken scenarios, especially with Don in them. Otherwise, it is quite apparent that Supriya Dravid is a first time writer.
Overall, you may not like each aspect of the novel, but it makes you read it till the very end. So if you want to read this novel, read it for Don, his drunken deeds, his numerous affairs, his sexual orientation, his dedicated secrets and his mark on people around him.
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An excerpt from A Cool, Dark Place
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