How do we begin this book review?
Well… let us start from the end.
“This could’ve been a short story. 40 pages. Maybe 50 pages,” I thought to myself, disappointed at the abrupt way in which the fictional novel ‘Estuary’ by Perumal Murugan ended. It was a witty fun ending. But after 256 pages of a father obsessing over his son’s desire for an expensive phone, it probably wouldn’t have mattered how it ended, readers like me would’ve been left feeling let down.
Set in a fictional place called Asurapur, ‘Estuary’ is about a simple government employee Kumarasurar, who shirks work, refuses to embrace technology, overtly-indulges his only college-going son Meghas and loses his shit when the boy asks for an exorbitantly priced smart-phone. The technology-challenged father cannot fathom why a phone must cost so much. He spirals into becoming an emotional mess when he slowly realizes the perils of a youngster having a smartphone with an internet connection. Meghas could become a delinquent, a game addict or just die while meddling with the phone. The possibilities are endless and Kumarasurar cannot find a way to say no.
‘Estuary’ is a dry satire, which has some bright moments, but is too damn long and boring in between. There were times that I seriously wanted to just stop reading, the mundane mind of the protagonist gave me a headache. Murugan mocks the Indian education system amply in the book, exaggerating how some schools and colleges function; although, he is definitely not too far from the truth. For example, Meghas studied in a school that doesn’t allow students to go home for two years. Only the parents are allowed to visit the kids on campus. At the end of the academic year, some students commit suicide, while the ‘survivors’ of the gruelling system riot against the teachers.
Since the book was originally written in Tamil, it’s hard to comment on the language, but the English translation was simple and easy to read. It’s just that the plot and Kumarasurar’s nightmares will appear juvenile to experienced readers. The characters are silly. Meghas is a pivotal character, but we get to nothing about him, except for the fact that he gets good grades and is bit of a brat. There is precious little happening in this book in way of action, most of it is in Kumarasura’s head. Cannot imagine a lot of people wanting to be there.
I enjoyed reading the first few pages of ‘Estuary’, but the experience went downhill from there. It doesn’t help that Murugan gives most of the characters similar sounding names, so a lot of readers would easily get confused over who is who. At some points I wouldn’t even know who was the protagonist, but just didn’t want to re-read anything again, so I would just move on. This is the kind of book best read when somebody is just beginning to explore fiction. Or perhaps it’s just not for me.
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