Shinie Antony’s Roo, the protagonist of her latest novel ‘The Girl Who Couldn’t Love’, is a fiercely intelligent, middle-aged English teacher who wears stinging cynicism on her sleeves.
She has only contempt for the world although she seems to have found her place in it, living with her sort of difficult mother, who is bed-ridden also. We don’t know why Roo is the way she is, or where her anger is coming from. We begin to find out as she starts to fall in love with a much, much younger man, Kumar. This was against Roo’s better judgment, of course, and the gates of her mental hell crack open one by one.
This is a love story, a thriller, and a murder mystery rolled into one. But what it does best is to fill you with a sense of foreboding right from the first sentence of the book which takes us inside Roo’s head: ‘This time before the blackest bird known to man opened its beak I knew who was coming to dinner.’
To call the book dark would be an understatement. It’s pitch black. Distilled hate, spewing out from the mouths and thoughts of its characters. And that hate exists even while making love. That’s the mood through the length of the book and yet, I simply couldn’t put it down. It wasn’t the plot that hooked me, but its incisive sentences, oozing fury, that leapt out of its pages and kept me scared and helpless as the mystery unravelled fast.
Sharp, witty, and cynical dialogues are something at which Shinie Antony excels at. So you can’t help chuckling every once in a while even though the humour is so dark.
Take this for instance. Roo hasn’t yet slept with Kumar and the wooing phase is on. Kumar is impatient. He has been messaging her bait after bait and she isn’t exactly biting. She gives him a prim ‘Good night,’ turns off her bedside lamp, and settles down to go over all his previous messages.
Then came his What you wearing?
This was the time to take a fist to his phone-face; this was what bored men world over asked bored women. But I said meekly, ‘Pyjamas.’
My only weapon, self-mockery, was failing to come to my aid when he asked, And under that?
‘Barbed wire.’ Then I switched off the phone.
Kumar is dying to get to know Roo better. And so are we.
Antony makes us itch to discover Roo’s secrets as they start to tumble out of the closet one after another and she takes us along Roo’s dangerous fall. The repercussions of a father who isn’t what he pretends to be, a mother who’s living a lie, two little girls caught in the middle of twisted relationships, and a lover who is not.
There have been times when some terrible fear crept up from behind me, knocking all sense right out of my head. It’s made me mouth words I regret, act in ways most uncharacteristic of me, and go temporarily insane. What if that fear stayed? Wouldn’t it rot inside of me, permeate every cell in me, and emit toxic fumes that others can smell? That happened to Roo.
The book is not for everyone because it is a first-hand exploration of human darkness – anger, fear, jealousy, shame, resentment, hate. In this book, these emotions aren’t just rearing their ugly heads once in a while like they do in most of us, but they stay on and wreck lives. This book is designed to make you squirm, upset and uneasy. And if you’re brave enough to pick it up, you can’t stop reading. You’ve been warned.