It is cheesy. It is so dramatic at times that readers will cringe at the seemingly contrived situations. Also, the beginning definitely lets it down. The writer may or may not have intended it, but the technique, at least at the start, is annoyingly reminiscent of a popular young Indian writer. But after all that, Subin Bhattarai’s Summer Love is a simple love story, beautifully told. It is not earth-shaking, and it is unlikely that anyone will call it a masterpiece of the century, but everyone with a heart will like it for what it is: an attempt to present readers with a piece of enjoyable, almost-realistic, fiction. It is the retelling of an everyday life.
The novel, it has already been mentioned, begins with the irritating and overused technique of some character offering to unload their life experiences on the writer. The author would have done well to skip this part. The moment the character, Atit (also the protagonist, no surprises there) begins reciting his tale, though, the story picks up. There are a bit of hiccups in the beginning, with the author struggling to introduce the characters, give readers a feel of the setting, explore his feelings, and so on. Once that is done, it is almost smooth sailing. The characters come alive, they interact and joke and go on excursions, they make friends with each other and sit for boring classes and travel in city buses. Readers, especially young ones, will become hooked to this realistic portrayal, which could be happening in any of our lives.
Just as the love between Atit and Saya could be sprouting in the hearts of any of the readers. The initial awkwardness, the gradual friendship and intimacy, the tenderness, the spats and quarrels – the incidents might be long drawn-out, but they are mostly justified, as they let the readers follow the tale of love with ease. Bhattarai writes in clear, lucid, slick prose, not much unlike the simplicity that Narayan Wagle, and then Buddhisagar, displayed in their fiction. It is the language we think and speak in. But the difference is that Bhattarai’s approach is even more fresh, his characters are almost all young and unformed, their dialogues are what any collegiate would speak. His ability to pick people off the streets and make them talk on paper is his biggest strength. The lingo of the youngsters, their thought processes, the way they gorge on pani puris, chiya and churot, log onto Skype at the drop of a hat, shoot pictures for a Facebook profile, spend nights texting each other, drink wildly before an amorous night – it is so now, so today, so us. It is what has almost never been explored in a full-length novel in the Nepali language, though plenty of stories have done so.
A Summer Full of Love 🙂
It would be difficult to talk of the plot without revealing it, for it moves ahead in a linear fashion, capturing the romance with glimpses of strained family relations and combined field-works. The subject-matter itself is not a page-turner by any stretch of imagination, but by the time the romance develops into a full-fledged affair, readers are emotionally attached to the protagonists, they actually want to know where it all goes. When a character’s proposal is accepted, they are elated, and when the lovers suffer, it will make them want to protect the fragile relation. And after all this, after readers go through anxious waitings and sleepless moments along with the protagonists, the writer decides to disappoint them with the climax, which is anticlimactic to say the least. We might forgive him for this, though, and agree that it adds to the overall contemporary feel and style of the novel.
But what we cannot forgive him for is the tediousness that he sometimes insists on thrusting into the pages. The almost obsessive desire to record the amount of money spent, whether Rs 27 for tea or Rs 400 for snacks, is definitely bothersome, it sounds like the diary of an efficient accountant. Similar is the case of his insertion of minute details, such as the time for the train’s arrival or the name of his dormitories or a discussion on buff and egg – the superfluous information will make readers want to scream. The writer’s constant repetition of certain matters also takes away from the novel’s charm – there are half a dozen instances of girls smiling at boys, often appearing in consecutive paragraphs. The blow-by-blow account of super-boring stuff is uncalled for.
Apart from the tendency to harp on inconsequential matters, or stretch a negligible incident into something huge, the author has mostly kept to the topic. He has done a commendable job with his characters, allowing them to grow and develop and express. Saya, especially, is very life-like, with her wilfulness and strength. One cannot help feeling, however, that although Atit is a likeable, affectionate, appreciative boyfriend, there is a lot of auto/biographical characteristic embedded in him, and hence the need to always prove him the hero. With this issue come attached the issues of misogyny, a palpable feature in all kinds of fiction authored by males. This novel is not an exception, laying the blame much too easily and squarely on a female’s shoulders, dubbing them as vague and ambiguous, commodifying and objectifying them. The glimpses of misogyny are not out of context or exaggerated, but not particularly comforting either, particularly from a young writer.
The young author should also have paid better care to the way he used English words in the novel. There is an abundance of English words, which is quite natural when used in dialogues. But English could have been left out in the rest of the narration, specially because a few words have been lousily used. Substituting ‘combine study’ for ‘combined studies’, ‘Maconvince bhayen’ for ‘convinced’ and saying ‘frusted’ instead of ‘frustrated’ is simply not done. Also, once, Saya is opening the ‘bottom’ of Atit’s shirt instead of the ‘button’. For the linguist it will take away from the pleasure of the lovemaking scene, not that it is well-written in the first place, it is one of the the few places where the writer lapses into grandiose words and expressions, spoiling the contemporary feel. Leaving that apart, the novel has been well-edited, with barely half a dozen typos, although the sentences are sometimes so staccato you wish they had been left as they were instead of being brutally cut midway.
All these flaws, though, are minor when compared with the risk the writer has decided to take, by writing in a mater-of-fact language that could be lambasted for its lack of ornamentation. Those who complain on the flippant language should wait till the latter pages, where the writer has displayed his brilliant writing skills. A three-page long outpouring of the protagonist’s heart will leave readers with goosebumps, it is packed with so much raw feelings. The pain and the longing are tangible, they make you want to reach out and hug the character, they remind you of people who have wronged you, and also those you have deceived. Also, young readers will simply love the retorts between the characters, the sarcasm, the undertones, as relations fall apart and are built anew. For this is the way we think, we talk, we act.
And that is why, in the end, SummerLove is the story engraved in the heart of each and every collegiate, the story many think of jotting down, but which only Bhattarai has managed to write.