Book Review : Then the Doorbell Rang by Capri Jalota

Click to buy, or read on Kindle Unlimited.

WHY I READ THE BOOK

I had seen the book on Kindle Unlimited, and dismissed it as – not my type – as I was on a thriller reading spree of late. At this point, I must also admit that I have begun looking at Indian authors with a biased angle. (Judge me for being judgemental all you want!) For this one, I made an exception and read the blurb, and put it on the ‘could be read’ list whenever I felt like reading a non-thriller.

Today, my friend Anita posted a short review about it and the name rang a bell. (Pun very much intended.) As I had just finished the rather long Dead Lawyers Don’t Lie (also a debut, incidentally), I downloaded it immediately.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ THE BOOK

If you are anything like me, you are a cynic when it comes to the quality of writing of the recent crop of debut Indian authors. You do want to read authentic India-based stories but can’t seem to find a lot of read-worthy books.

This one is a welcome addition to the read-worthy section and falls under romance/drama/contemporary fiction genre.

(I should mention that the author Mr. Capri Jalota is a Bahrain based Indian expat, so he can also be termed as a Bahraini author.)

The quality of writing bit sorted, this book is a definite page turner despite not being a suspense novel.

Case in point : I finished it in 4 hours since I downloaded it, today!

If you like the current crop of woman-centric movies in Bollywood (Do I see you cringe at my comparing movies and books? Sorry! Let me give you book examples – All and Nothing by Raksha Bharadia, A Woman of My Age by Nina Bawden), you’ll like this emotional roller-coaster ride that the flawed but gumptious protagonist sets out on.

Top 3 reasons for you to read the book :

1) It is backed by Leadstart Publishing, which has established itself as a publisher of quality books over the last few years.
2) The narration is not pretentious (which is my biggest grudge against many debutants) at any point.
3) The characters and happenings are completely relatable. If you’re tired of reading over-the-top plots which lack believability, then this one is so rooted in ordinary life that you’ll be surprised why you’re wanting to know more about the happenings in such a routine setting.

THE PLOT

The story revolves around the Anglo-Indian lead Jane, who is a highly successful Dubai-based real estate manager plagued by personal issues that threaten to bring a standstill to her ability to handle her job efficiently unless she resolves them. She sets out to find the person who has all the answers that will supposedly help her achieve emotional closure, but ends up in deeper problems due to the decisions she takes during the ‘search’. She tries to bring her life back on track after the unfruitful and disastrous ‘search’ trip and is on the brink of finding love again when things go wrong again.

Utterly dejected and unhopeful, she resolves to put an end to her suffering on the day the whole world celebrates; and then the doorbell rings! It is for you to find out what happens next. Does Jane find solace after all?

 

THE CHARACTERS

Since the characters are the essence of this beautifully written book, I will not go into deeper details of each of their traits. I do want to write about them though, so it would be better if you come back to this section after you read the book.

Jane

You have an Indian Doctor married to a British citizen and Jane is their only offspring. Constantly conflicted about her identity, she decides to identify more with her mother’s side just because she is never introduced formally to her Indian side. She is very decisive, often acting on instinct and regretting in hindsight. She discovers her empathetic side a little later in life when she starts looking at things from others’ perspective.

Uday

You get to know him from Jane’s reminiscing and his own journal entries. I loved how the author gives us the glimpses of a man who cannot give up his past and is trying to come to terms with a life-changing decision he has made under somebody else’s influence while maintaining his basic nature that others define as easy-going and selfless. It is difficult to decide whether you feel sorry for him or hate him outright.

Mahesh (and family)

The quintessentially helpful Marathi manus who has managed to rise to an upper middle-class lifestyle from humble beginnings through sheer hard work. He is a happy family man with a doting wife who singlehandedly brings up their daughters and rightfully nags him sometimes to take out some time for their own selves. The purpose of this whole family is to show what a perfectly happy household looks like (and what life could’ve been for Jane according to her ‘thoughts to self’. I don’t think Jane could have had that life considering the kind of man Uday was.) and how fragile the illusion of the ‘perfectly happy household’ is…

Rahul

He’s apparently a selfless fellow who has dedicated his life to social service. I’d say he’s one of the most selfish people in matters of the heart. He advises his best friend to ‘come out clean’ to his fiancée while he himself doesn’t communicate his reservations for shunning the advances of the girl he loves. The flamboyant techie turned dedicated NGO worker ‘with a heart of gold’ is in fact a manipulator who thinks he knows best when it comes to other people’s romantic choices.

*spoiler alert*

I don’t know why this Rahul reminds me of quite a few leads played by Hrithik Roshan where he romances the heroine for somebody else, falls in love in the process, and then selflessly steps aside because it would be wrong to marry the one who’s claimed by his best friend (or boss). I have no sympathy for such losers. (Sorry for the outburst. The credit for this goes to the author’s incredible character etching.)

*spoiler over*

The supporting characters – Jane’s dad and mom, Mahesh’s wife, their pre-teen and toddler daughters, Jane’s physiotherapist, Jane’s boss, her in-laws, and her dad’s extended family are all expanded just enough to help the reader get to know them and still not get distracted from the main plot.

WRITING STYLE

The language is refined, the flow is smooth, timeframes are defined, and the dialogues are engaging. I found only 1 typo in the book.

Most of the narrative is in flashback, and proceeds from Jane’s point of view. The reader thinks with her, explores with her, contemplates a dilemma with her, and unwittingly and unwillingly flees from conflicting situations with her, and regrets and hopes with her.

Such is the grasp of the author on the subject matter of female emotions that the reader lets go of superficial things like where the story is heading and drifts with the cluelessly or otherwise drifting protagonist.

WHAT I LIKED

  1. There are no black and white characters. Everybody is flawed, and still almost everybody is likeable.
  2. There are no loopholes (good) or loose ends (not that good**). The motives of everyone’s behaviour gets clear towards the end. (There’s a writing rule to let somethings be for the reader to figure out. The author has broken it and the result is actually good. The book offers closure to the reader too along with the lead.)
  3. Thankfully, very thankfully in fact, there are no proofreading mistakes (except one). It makes the book highly readable.
  4. The settings (Dubai, Mumbai, Delhi, Agra, London) and happening are familiar to most readers who’ll pick up this book. It is a real skill to write about fictional people whose life is turned around by real-life mishaps or milestone events.
  5. The conflicts (I get a bit technical here) are well-timed and do not seem forced. It helps that the author seems to have a deep understanding of the psychology of toddlers, pre-teens, middle-aged and old aged people of either gender.

WHAT I DID NOT LIKE

  1. Let’s address the elephant in the room. The book is not lengthy still the narrative goes into too much detail in places.*spoiler alert* Mostly in Uday’s journal and then towards the end of the book. *spoiler over*

    While it is very tempting for the author to put down everything that is unfolding in his mind, it is a harsh fact that readers generally skim over the parts where they think they’ve known everything there is to know on the page at that moment to move forward in their reading; especially in times when the attention span is too low.(Like you – my reader – have probably skipped to point 2 after the bold spoiler alert font. See what I mean? But I am not writing a book, so I can afford ‘skimming readers’ to illustrate a point to the author who will surely read this review. 🙂 )

  2. The book does not wrap up in time.This is slightly different than lengthy detailing. This is where the plot refuses to stop after the end goal of the story is seemingly achieved.(**This happens because the author has broken the writing rule mentioned above.)

    Have you ever watched a movie where you thought it is brilliant in places, dragging in parts, but in the end you’re happy you’ll take back some good memories when suddenly the director inserts a 10-min sequence? Baahubali-2 anyone?

    (I know I am contradicting myself by adding these lines. I seem to be very intent on irritating my readers. Thanks for bearing with me so far. If you’re skimming, all is well.)

IN A NUTSHELL

I enjoyed it because I have lived in Dubai – the place where it all begins and ends. And also because I genuinely liked the narrative voice that is honest. The story shows and doesn’t tell (if you know what I mean). You’ll probably enjoy it for the latter reason.

Pick it up if you’re anybody who reads. Really, this one is not the run of the mill romances, or crusader stories just because it happens to be a woman centric book.

My rating is 4.0 on 5.

(It should be counted as highly biased (in a good way), because I’ve not been reading the real ‘quality’ stuff of late. This is a whiff of fragrance for my mediocrity clogged reading nose. Eww…I know the metaphor stinks! But looks as if I’ve found my writing wit. 😛 So many buts in this post, can you count? )

5 things that can make your debut book a bestseller!

Welcome, dear first-time authors!

In this post, you’ll find the ingredients that make your soup the most sought after at the annual readers’ dinner party (ARDP); rather than land you in a soup through the dismal sales records.

Photo credits : Teleread.com

What are my credentials, you ask? Well, I am one of your targeted Indian readers, who has been starved for a good Indian soup since some decades.

If you go to any best-selling author (I’ve been to discussion panel sessions featuring the stars of Indian fiction – Amish, Ravi Subramanian), they’ll tell you that the topmost ‘thing’ that can make your book a bestseller is – marketing. Author Ashwin Sanghi swears that he has stormed ahead of many a better writers than him because of his clever marketing tactics.

While I agree with this to a certain extent, I also feel that the soup will not ‘sell’ unless it has some underlying unique OR popular taste that the feasters at the ARDP like. Sooner or later, the readers will discover that the promise of quality is a hoax, and most of them will not finish the soup. If they’ve already finished it, they won’t take the soup offered by you at the next ARDP.

So, hurry up and pick these ingredients off the proverbial book writing shelf:

  1. Story : Make the book about your story, not about your linguistic skills.See, the fact that you have undertaken the herculean task of setting out to write a book screams from the rooftops that you have a flair for expressing yourself through your writing. It also establishes that you are relatively well-versed with the rules of grammar and have a vast vocabulary.

    Because, other people who don’t have these qualities would get cold feet at the prospect of writing down what they envision in a story, biography, or auto-biography. They’d get someone else to do the ‘dirty work’ of putting thoughts on paper.

    So, you don’t have to prove your linguistic proficiency to anyone. It is a given, since you’re writing the book yourself. Desist from dragging the narrative just to show off how well you can play with words.

    The language in your book should be according to :

    1.  The time frame and the location in which it the story is set.
    2. The social status and the educational level of your characters.

      This will help you in establishing authenticity – the second ingredient.

  2. Authenticity : Believe in your story. Only then will your readers buy it.

    Let your story be as outlandish as possible. Do everything in your capacity to narrate it in a matter of fact tone.

    If you have read any of Asimov’s books, you’ll see how unassumingly he goes on setting up the Universe that is statistically heading towards annihilation. The reader has no choice but to accept what the author states to be the ‘norm’ in his world.Even if the story is based in the real world, there can be some character traits, some scenes that won’t be easily digested by the ARDP, unless the author writes them with conviction that stems from – 1) Extensive Research and 2) Huge Self-confidence.

    Picture :

    “Masakali landed swiftly on the porch. His hind legs hit the ground first.

    Mohan retrieved the letter that was carefully wedged between Masakali’s front paws, which were folded in a classic Namaste position all through his arduous flight from Mumbai to Pune.

    Masakali gave a grunt of relief and dutifully licked his Master’s cheek. In return, Mohan affectionately booped his nose, which signalled that he is dismissed.

    He was dying to see his wife, Deena. He sprinted towards the mud pool on the far side of the garden. There she was, lying contentedly in the soft gooey mud. And nuzzling against her, were four pink babies! So they had hatched!

    Masakali was overwhelmed with joy. He lost no time in hurtling his rotund self in the mud pool and embracing his family in a strong pig-hug. This was a moment of celebration. After all, these piglets would grow up into fine flyers and help him realise his dream of keeping the ‘Fastest Messenger’ title in the family.”

    Now tell me, are you in the mood to ‘tell me that pigs don’t fly’ or ‘read more about the Fastest Messenger competition’?

  3. Visualisation : Live in the world in which your story takes place.

    Continuing from above, to create an authentic narrative, you have to be able to see the setting and the characters as if you’re living with them as one of their own or as an observer.What makes Harry Potter a success? Is it only J K Rowling’s lucid writing, or the depth of her characters, or the intriguing plot? It is mainly because in her writing, the reader is shown a world that is replete with details about its physical appearance – be it the sorting hat,the Hogwarts hall, the magic wands, or anything – alive or inanimate.

    Ironically, writing fantasy with a believable setting is relatively easier than writing fiction in the real world – where you have to describe the character’s house (say set near The Louvre, Paris). Apart from their abode, the characters have to have physical attributes and dresses that can be visualized by the reader. All this information should be conveyed subtly, rather than pointing it out in an obvious sentence.

    Picture :

    “Rani was a tall girl. All her cousins were shorter than her. So they made her get the cookies, which her mother hid on the top shelf in the kitchen.”

    And…

    “Rani could reach the top shelf of the kitchen cupboards, without as much as standing on her toes. Her cousins had often tried to jump on the kitchen platform to get to them, but they were always discovered and given the scolding of their lifetime as they hit their heads or disturbed the electronic appliances with their feet while trying to stand up from their crouched positions. The decision was unanimous – Rani would get the cookies. After all, her mother had hid them.”

  4. Rendering : Find your own chapter presentation style.Dan Brown alternates between two narratives – one, the protagonist’s and one, the antagonist’s. I have read some authors who make each characters narrate a chapter, to make the readers see their point of view. There are some who prefer the traditional third person narrative.

    Again the flow depends from author to author, book to book – flashbacks, cliffhangers, etc. are the chapter styles that I am accustomed to. Now, what works for a crime thriller won’t necessarily work or not work for a romance. Eh, all I am trying to say is – instead of aping a chapter style that has become popular of recent – here I go back to Dan Brown’s alternating narratives – try picturing a movie that is based on your book.

    How would the screenplay pan out? Try to base the chapters in that sequence, and that style.Is your chapter descriptive? Does it have more dialogues? Does it end abruptly? Do not think about all this. Avoid cliches like – leave a hook and make the reader feel incomplete after one chapter. Do it, but don’t do it consciously. When you’re writing the chapters as if they’re happening on reel, you’ll end up writing the most enticing book ever.

    It’s another matter that very few writers are happy with their book’s movie adaptations. The movie reference here is in context with point 3 where the reader should be able to visualise what’s happening – and that is only possible if the chapter style and flow are complementing the author’s narration.

  5. Revise : Fine tune your work for the finale.

    It is a known fact that most writers are big time procrastinators and don’t like revisions.It’s not because they’re lazy. It’s because they lack the motivation of going about a task that is less creatively fulfilling than creating the story and the characters in the first place.

    You can make the revision interesting by reading alternately as a diner of the ARDP and the chef who made the soup. Do you like the primary flavor of the soup? Can you find subtle underlying flavors? Yes, pat yourself on the back, and finish the garnishing. No, do the required changes/additions and then garnish it.

    Even I’ll revise this blog, and then post it. 🙂