Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger took everyone by surprise – for its unique narration of a story that any novelist would not have thought a bestseller idea. His second book – Between the Assassinations – was not the page-turner compared to the first.
Narayan Wagle, our own novelist, received similar response with his Mayur Times. After bestselling Palpasa Café (and the winning of the Madan Puraskar – Nepal’s top literary prize), the editor of a national daily came up with a new novel. And, not surprisingly, people thronged to buy it and comment ‘not good’.
Palpasa Café gave a new writer and a new style, something that became predictable for Mayur Times. Also, the popularity and beauty of the first novel forced the people to expect ‘something extraordinary and great from the novelist’.
And, with the ‘growing pressure’ to publish a new novel, the novelist probably did not give enough time for the second novel – and the publisher did also probably failed to provide valuable peer review before publication.
For me, Mayur Times is a good novel. This is probably also because it tells the story of journalists and journalism. (As a colleague of mine always puts: if we are told to read a very good book on rise of insurance company, how much interested we will be?)
I loved reading Mayur Times – and I still believe it’s better than many other contemporary Nepali novels. I don’t exactly remember details of Palpasa Café, but I too believe the earlier book was a masterpiece while Mayur Times is not extraordinary!
So, what the novelist missed in the novel? I am not qualified to go into the literary values and concepts; but as an avid reader of fictions, here is what I think:
The novel tells a ‘happy story’ of some ‘sad tales’ – the mismatch of emotions. While the story supposedly is built on the problems journalists are facing – and people due to conflict and impunity in the country – it presents an ideal world where the pain, agony and suffering do make ‘guest appearance’ but fail to stimulate readers’ emotions. Within a few sentences of painful tale, we are presented with playful dialogues.
In an attempt to make the novel true to his style of playful conversations, the novelist spent more energy on those playful words than dwelling more on crucial situations and emotional dialogues.
While writing, sometimes the author wants to ensure that everything is put into a book and Narayan Wagle tried to put in everything he had experienced during his journalism career into the 200-something page novel. The journalists could understand those ‘newsroom tales’ but for non-journalists, it’s not possible to get fully into all those. If the novel was something like 500 pages, all those sub-stories could have made sense, but when you are about to cut in size, you also need to put something out of the box.
The novelist is at his best in playing the words, creating playful scenes and has creatively weaved the story of his profession and that’s good enough to recommend any book for a read!
[Disclaimer: Narayan Wagle, the novelist, is the editor of Nagarik, the sister publication of Republica, where I work. I share a healthy relationship with the novelist.]