Publisher: Penguin Books
Year: 2014 (originally 2004)
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The Last Song of Dusk is Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi’s first novel. It won the Betty Trask Award (UK) and the Premio Grinzane Cavour (Italy), was nominated for the IMPAC Prize and has been translated into 10 languages. The author’s second novel, The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay, has also been published.
Anuradha Gandharva is leaving Udaipur to meet a young man for a potential marriage proposal. Aside from bridal anxieties, a peculiar feeling of restlessness envelopes her being throughout the book, which coaxes us to ask ourselves – can we really be at peace? Or do we have to snatch little moments of happiness from this supposedly merciless life?
Her very doting husband, Vardhmaan Gandharva, is a debonair and dashing young man. He loves and respects Anuradha and the chemistry between the two is crackling throughout the book.
As the excited newlyweds, the middle-aged couple settling into their roles and later, the old couple who revel in each other’s companionship, the duo constantly complement the other’s presence. We come to understand the dynamic equation that is love.
Shloka, the achingly quiet and composed child of the Gandharvas, is a harbinger of change in their destiny.
Finally, Nandini is Anuradha’s hedonistic cousin with a cryptic tongue and a mystical air. She brings some much needed excitement to the otherwise prosaic life of the Gandharvas. A mistress of her own destiny, her trust in love has eroded with every passing day since being pushed around as an unwanted orphan.
The book revolves around these four different and kinetic personalities. Their interactions weave the beautiful prose of the book.
Other supporting characters such as Radha mashi, Libya Dass and Khalil Muratta add an appropriate amount of spice to this cauldron of interesting events.
The setting of the book takes us from the propriety-infused, decorous buildings of 1920s Bombay to the majestic villas of Matheran where debauchery is the order of the night. Dariya Mahal, home to the Gandharvas, has a life of its own and oscillates between being the devil and the angel (but mostly the devil) from time to time.
With such a strong setting and characters, the story weaves itself into the book. It is a page turner and I raced to finish the book as soon as I got my hands on it.
The story is intensely gripping – just when you feel that no more misfortune can befall these characters, a dark tragedy is just around the corner, waiting to happen. Just when you dream of a happy ending, the twist takes your breath away.
The clear message of the book is in its opening line – ‘In this life, my darling, there is no mercy.’
The book doesn’t teach you to overcome obstacles and emerge a strong person, it teaches you that resilience, the right company and a little love and trust are what you need to get through life.
The dialogue is rich and can get rhetorical at times. Excessive ornateness of the prose may dissuade even the doughtiest reader, but carry on because the story is as gripping as it is eloquent.
Overall a terrific read. The Last Song of Dusk stays with you long after you have turned the last page.
Check out this interesting Q & A by the author with Verve here.