WRITING STYLE: 4/5
ENTERTAINMENT QUOTIENT: 5/5
When a lot of effort goes into writing then you have a book like Living Hell.
A fast-paced noir murder mystery with dark humour that builds on the secrecies of the Mumbai underworld and an accidental hero, Living Hell is at times bafflingly exotic beyond words.
Vivaan Shah has an eye for detail like none other. He is highly descriptive and the facts are articulate and immaculately placed that adds to the pace of the narrative.
While on the whole, the book is fast paced, the opening chapter puts in a lot of time and sweat to describe the nitty-gritty of the apartment that the protagonist lives in and the things happening around him while he chooses to do nothing all day.
The opening chapter is Shah’s tryst with excellent imagination and brilliant writing put together. In it, the pace all of a sudden slows down like the minute by minute ticking of a clock and catches on like the slow stirring of the ceiling fan.
It then heaves up and is blown beyond proportion like the constantly nagging call of the doorbell or the never-ending ringing of the intercom.
Shah defines life in the suburbs of this one BHK and balcony apartment really well. When a boy from a few floors above comes to take his clothes that have fallen into the protagonist’s balcony by mistake, then all the boy can grunt is a slight “ugh.”
In such conditions lives Nadeem Sayed Khatib. But in the background to his own dark days is going to befall another dark mystery. Call it ill luck or a badly written fate, but Nadeem Chipkali is in for quite some adventure and this time all at his own cost but at little fault of his own.
“Overall the more menial sounds insidiously inhabiting the kitchen and living room, there chirped a silent dripping from the toilet, as if in the background to the restless recital of the household. It came like the whisper of a wind chime, discreet yet glaringly apparent, and impossible to not take notice of.”
Poignant and cautiously insightful, Shah has a taste for storytelling that keeps up the mystery of the plot. The suspense is carefully built and cautiously diced into as small morsels of servings as possible to cater to the thrill and excitement of the reader.
The language is moderately difficult though Shah makes use of proper dosage of good vocabulary and functionally lionized English. There is a good balance of dialogues along with the narrative passages.
Living Hell will appeal to readers of all ages and backgrounds. Its non- fabricated language has an honesty that is far from the meagre attempts of a debutant.
Shah is every bit professional in profoundly relaying the thoughts of his characters without being interruptive to their streams of consciousnesses in a modern manner. It is this inner voice that keeps lurking somewhere within the voice of the narrator-author that adds to the chaotic suspense of the narrative and helps keep up its steady pace of what is an otherwise fast and furious story.
However, the dialogues could have been better constructed. Though the book is written entirely in English, excluding a few colloquial words, Shah has tried to portray his characters’ features through their words.
However, the dialogues feel either too short or too evasive at times. It is in the third person narratorial voice that Shah does a better job.
Nadeem Sayed Khatib has several aliases but most popular of them all is Nadeem Chipkali. He is a tipper of trade by profession but most of all a student of human traits.
Though a jack of all trades, he has the ability to size up any person to guaranteed precision. He is on the payroll of inspector Gaekwad of the Byculla Police Station ever since he gets busted at a nakabandi off the J.J. flyover with Rs. 12 lakh cash in hand. But all he truly ever wants to do is to stay up all day in his apartment, watch television and ignore the qualms of the world.
What brings about the change in his life is when his landlord reprimands him to clear his dues and blackmails him into extracting money from another tenant Makhija.
Nadeem is expecting voices of objection and annoyance from Makhija’s side. But when he makes it to his apartment Nadeem realises to his horror that all he has now to do is to talk with the dead body of Makhija.
Who could be behind it all and why? Sadly, landing up in the wrong place at the wrong time has its own consequences.
The plot is complex with multiple climaxes that make for the book to be read from ear to ear and cover to cover. The climaxes come vaulting downhill one after another but there is no sense of overdose.
Shah is careful to never let the entertainment quotient slacken by overemphasising on the information.
However, the drama calls for an enticing display of emotions through an exhilarating dark humour that will keep readers on the edge and hooked on for more.
The cover photo by Devangana Dash has been impeccably done as well. It has the image of a police constable or what looks like a person of legal importance shining a torch into the dark. Below is the picture of shanties and buildings of what comprises to be any urban Indian city today. Through the centre are etched the words Living Hell with black birds flying all over them. It is highly reflective of the plot and goes in line with the narrative well.
One sentence, however, majestically sums it all, “Death itself seemed disappointed at how unceremoniously its latest seat had been usurped. As if to die all alone was the greatest sin. And to go on living by oneself the only answer.”
How long will Nadeem be able to survive living in this hell? How innocent is he this time around?
Can’t wait to read it? Buy your copy of Living Hell from the link below.