Virgin Gingelly


I hope to be remembered in this street, amongst the lame, as the husband of the one with amorous thoughts and sexy legs. There used to be a writer here in this empty house, they will say. He had a porous mind.

A stubborn writer struggles with his stories in a city that has been encroached.

The last bastion is an urban agraharam near Mylapore where a bunch of misfits perform a strange kutcheri. Among these are existential street dogs, short-changed lovers, disgruntled housewives, runaways with bombs, veshti-wearing elders, and nihilist teenagers coming to terms with their sexuality. With a singular desire to escape, these characters visit each others stories creating a layered narrative of loss and ennui.

In language both gritty and humourous, and often surprisingly poetic, V Sanjay Kumars narrative, set in modern middle-class, housing-cooperative Chennai, tackles the simple conundrum of being and belonging.

~Synopsis from goodreads

Let’s Talk Cover

I accepted this book for review as soon as I opened the email attachment and saw the lovely cover.

The cover is by the artist Vivek Vilasani and is an adaptation of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam.

Here’s a look at the complete cover

Full shot of the cover

Full shot of the cover

I loved the Kathakali dancer on the cover and though the dancer has nothing to do with the actual book content, the overall effect was very positive.

My Review

And then I started on the book. The book begins strangely with a chapter told from the viewpoint of a stray dog. It took me a couple of pages to realize that the narrator is not a person but a dog, and so I went back and reread it once again. It still read strange to me. Even after finishing the book I have no idea what that first chapter was about.

So, after reading that chapter, I knew I was in for an unusual read.

The second chapter also starts with an unnamed I, and then the third, and the fourth and soon I realized this is how the novel flows. It’s hard to understand until you are well into the chapter whether the narrator of this chapter is the same as the narrator in the previous one or someone else entirely.

This particular structure makes the book hard to read and hard to talk about also. Throughout while reading the book, I was puzzling through the connections between some of the narrators. However, there is one masterful chapter near the end, which reveals who is who and I was just blown away by how the author connected the dots so beautifully.

So yes, it’s hard to read in places, but the writing is beautiful. I really appreciated the author’s caustic wit and found myself relating to so many things he wrote.

…where morals have been reduced to a science.

I was totally LOLing at the above quote as I nostalgically remembered studying moral science in school and even writing exams on the subject 🙂 , and if you are wondering what on earth is moral science, it is exactly what its name suggests. You read moralistic stories about virtuous people, and then write exams on them 😀 .

Anyway back to the book.

Another example of good writing – here’s a lonely housewife wondering about the meaning of life:

Say something. Tell me something.

Does somebody up there have a grand plan? Is there some magnificent schema? Or am I here on this earth to merely come and go?

I read epics. I watch the giant classics. I now believe these things never happened.

And here she casually belittles her husband

If you walked past the house in a hurry, you would have missed it. It was typical and it was nondescript. Like my husband.


So, you get what I am saying. The book is difficult, but still lovely and I could sit here all day quoting bits from the book in my review, but in the interests of brevity, let’s go on to the summary.

Last Words

I don’t even know how to summarize this book – the closest I can come to is that this book is a slice of life of Tamil Brahmins living in a particular colony (called Rainbow Colony) in Chennai.

The blurb on the book cover describes the book as Salingeresque, and I guess I have to agree with that one. It is a complex book with a lot going on. From a literary standpoint this book is excellent, top class. However, the world it describes is very small, and very culture-specific. It will resonate one and all with Tamilians and specifically people from Madras/Chennai.

Whether this book will appeal to external readers, I am not sure. Its very esoteric nature and the very region and culture specific insights make this a book that will appeal to a very specific audience – literary fiction readers who love something a little out-of-the-way, but oh, that audience will love this little gem of a book.

Huge thanks to the publicist for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  • What an interesting way to tell a story!

    • Nishita

      @joyweesemoll:disqus it was very interesting. It’s definitely a book where I had to use my brain cells to connect the dots.

  • Very interesting! I’m definitely going to look this one up – I love difficult literary fiction (assuming I’m in the mood to think). I’m also very interested to see if the cultural stuff translates.

    Thanks for linking up with Spread the Love!

  • Modern Gypsy

    I’ve got this one for review too….now I’m a bit apprehensive and still, kinda excited to read this!

    • Nishita

      @moderngypsy:disqus would love to hear your take on it. I have been reading way too many easy books lately, so this did tax me a bit.

  • dreamzandclouds

    its complicated – that’s how I feel after I read the review 🙂

    • Nishita

      @dreamzandclouds did I make it sound very complicated? It is hard but not unreadable.

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