Friday, March 30, 2012

"The Mine", visited (A Review)

Having been familiar with the musings of Arnab Ray via his immensely popular blog (written under his nom de blog 'Greatbong'), I picked up his newly-published book, The Mine, the second one in his oeuvre, with pleasurable anticipation. I expected Arnab's usual style, a lighthearted and witty banter while holding forth on various topics of contemporary significance focused on India, a style in which the barbs engender a belly-laughter even as they sink in. The Mine - available as a paperback in India through his publishers and various other outlets, and as an eBook outside India via Amazon - does nothing of that sort. My preconceptions were exhaled forcefully as if I were sucker-punched in the solar plexus, as the narrative gripped me with its intensity and unslackening pace.

Cover of The Mine [left]Paperback [Right]eBook
The Mine is a supernatural thriller, at once reminiscent of Stephen King, and yet, distinctly different. With consummate skill, Arnab has blurred the line between supernatural and rational. The principal characters are - almost all - persons with a background in science and/or technology, and therefore, readily (if mistakenly) assumed to be reasoning beings endowed with a healthy skepticism. Arnab masterfully uses the age-old technique of mixing flashbacks with the current narrative to etch out their personalities and perspectives, even their essential humanness in their foibles and frailties - but nothing therein suggests any supernatural connotation. And yet, as the storyline progresses and the characters propose rational explanations for the events surrounding them, such explanations nevertheless come unraveled, thread after thread, to reveal glimpses of some unknown, unspecified and malevolent supernatural agency.

Arnab is a keen and superb observer of human nature and stereotypes thereof, a talent which has doubtless been instrumental in his blogosphere celebrity. The same proficiency helped him paint the characters of The Mine in great detail and made those characters believable. Once familiar with them, we realize that we all have known and encountered such people - perhaps even in the mirror, at times. What the readers of The Mine may be unaware of (and therefore, unprepared for) is - regardless of any supernatural agency - the capability of the human psyche for sheer, undiluted and utterly unspeakable evil.

And it is this evil that permeates the story. The descriptions of sex, violence and gore are graphic, almost lurid (most certainly an 'A' in India and an 'R' or 'NC17' in the US, if someone makes a movie out of this); and yet, they hold almost no significance in the narrative by themselves - they but serve to accentuate the feeling of the presence of evil that lurks in the human minds and exposes itself whenever opportunity arises.

Through the voices of his characters, Arnab is only superficially judgmental - perhaps merely as much as needed to seed a streak of revulsion in the reader's mind, especially since, clearly, almost none of The Mine's characters are beyond reproach, each one fighting one's own demons. Therefore, the narrative doesn't get unnecessarily diluted in moralizations. And yet, by clever arrangement of the narrative including the plot twists (much celebrated in the contemporary reviews), Arnab has made sure that any pity a reader may feel for a particular character transforms to a sense of just comeuppance by the time that character's role has played out it part. In this, The Mine is remarkably different from conventional (and often, rather blasé) tales of good vs. evil. In this finely woven story, there is only all pervasive evil, to varying degrees, and there is no redemption until the last breath. Every sane individual, through life, seeks closure; The Mine doesn't provide any closure to any character, a fact which keeps reverberating in the mind of the reader long after the last page has been turned. This is what makes The Mine truly and diabolically scary.

Undoubtedly disturbing, The Mine, penned by Arnab Roy, is nevertheless a deeply engrossing story, what is termed as 'unputdownable'. I recommend it highly for those who are not faint of heart.

P.S. *CAUTION*: Minor spoilers below. Please cease reading further if you haven't yet read the book!
There are only two mild weaknesses that caused me a little dissatisfaction; I accept that it may be totally my personal idiosyncrasies speaking. First, the locale. Perhaps merely a case of familiarity breeding contempt, I, having grown up in India, found it a little difficult to accept that such a super secret, technologically advanced, military-like installation would be placed in Rajasthan, even if it is in the desert, which is not exactly far from prying eyes. This, in turn, also makes another plot element, the appearance of the Old Hebrew script, somewhat incongruous and implausible.

Secondly, the names. Oh, the names of the characters! Would that they matched the personality of the characters! Is 'Samar Bose' the best name Arnab could come up with for a battle-tested, hardened, spycraft-trained, former Intelligence official?

No comments:

Post a Comment