Sometimes you have to make a solid choice, but you don’t.
Publisher: Black Swan (Random House)
First Published: 2010
Date Reviewed: 30th September 2011
Anil loves Lina, and Lina loves Anil – but she’s held back a little by their differing religious views, and a lot by her own indecisiveness. She also has dreams of working for a charity while Anil favours architecture. The differences between them mean that they are constantly at odds over their relationship.
It’s very hard to write a proper summary of this book because there isn’t a true plot to it. Although cited as another Romeo And Juliet, The Obscure Logic Of The Heart is not like the great work of Shakespeare at all, in truth it doesn’t really know what it wants to be. Lina’s indecisiveness is reflected in Basil’s inability to decide just what her book is about.
There’s nothing much this reviewer has to say that is positive about the novel because there are just too many issues with it. One is the issue of time. When is the book supposed to take place? If the book begins by recounting the future, and thus the present is the future, it doesn’t much sound like it. If the present is our current present, then their years at university are too advanced. Lina arrived at her first job two months after 9/11. This would mean she was about 21 or 22 years old in 2001. If the author has set the reunion in the present day – around 2009/2010 when she wrote it – that would make Lina only 30. Therefore the decades that have reputedly gone past could never have happened. This is why some proper timing is required because Lina and Anil should be reuniting in the 2020s or 2030s and yet Basil has made no attempt to make the world any more developed, as it surely will be.
The characters aren’t at all memorable nor, like the world, are they developed. Anil is given more space to grow than Lina – who is silly and hesitant throughout, although she needn’t be – and the rest of the characters, though they have more life in them, aren’t particularly good. The purpose of the book is to highlight social, cultural, and religious issues but the youthful relationship between the protagonists isn’t given any time. The author tells you they are a good match but does not show it. It’s impossible to be convinced that they are – indeed it’s difficult not to feel that Anil has been wasting his time from the word ‘go’.
It’s as though all the characters are acting. The romance is supposed to be mired by religious conflict yet neither Anil or Lina are particularly religious – the former is not religious at all. The hero’s parents aren’t religious. The heroine’s mother is, but could be won over, while her father broke with tradition himself (as shown very early on via some letters that make the recipient obvious). So the relationship is not believable and neither is their trouble.
It’s also quite sad that Basil has formed the basis of Lina’s problems around the fact that Anil isn’t Muslim because this isn’t actually the real issue. From the way Basil has drawn the characters, even Lina’s virtuous mother, it’s difficult to see that a little more effort wouldn’t have overcome these complications. The fact the book tries to present a real issue current in our world today, and presents it so poorly, is worrying. The religious conflict is rather throwaway. What actually keeps the characters apart, even though Basil might not admit it, is Lina’s selfishness. Lina doesn’t particularly suffer when away from Anil, in fact she forgets him most of the time.
And this is where the biggest problem of the book lies. Basil is clearly torn between wanting to write about a forbidden romance and wanting to write about the issues in Africa. Lina leaves Anil and then suddenly all emphasis is on the UN and Basil is dedicating pages upon pages to describing conflict and why things must change. Obviously she’s an advocate, and there is nothing wrong with that, but instead of being compelling as it would be if she had written a book that left out the romance, she just leaves the reader confused. If Lina doesn’t seem to care about leaving Anil, the reader can’t be expected to either.
The characters that work for the UN go on about their expensive products being ruined by sand and have lots of parties and a great amount of sex. The way Basil portrays it really doesn’t give the reader a good impression of a group of people who are meant to be aiding the poorest people of the world.
There is a scene in which Lina is with an American colleague. One – the American does not sound as though she ought to be anyone’s boss, in fact she sounds like a silly teenager. Two – Lina says she loves these kind of conversations – a conversation about rape being used as a weapon in war-torn countries, that is being spoken by a man and the American woman, while the latter is trying her best to display as much cleavage as possible. As mentioned prior to the conversation, Lina doesn’t like this flirty behaviour of her colleague’s – if so, wouldn’t she be wondering about the distaste of a conversation about the plight of African women being spoken by someone who is currently trying to get her breasts out? If in writing this scene Basil was trying to show irony, then she surely would have commented on it.
And whenever things get difficult? Basil dons her Victorian clothes and turns to melodrama, causing accidents in convenient places and getting rid of characters that could have caused interesting moments to happen.
There are some errors that are truly terrible, such as the London Underground signs being written in red (an author who has lived for a while in London ought to know that the signs are written in white against a blue background); and human beings do not have green pupils.
And it’s unfortunate really, because the pace of the book is good and it’s an easy read.
Having religious conflict as a theme requires depth. Having social relations as a theme requires depth. And as this book sadly shows, Basil is not a person who can do it.
I received this book for review from Transworld Publishers, Random House.
November 14, 2011, 6:31 pm
I have a copy of this, but haven’t got around to reading it. I’m sorry that you had so many issues with it – I’ve seen positive reviews elsewhere. You’re review has actually made me curious – can a book really have that many errors? I look forward to finding out one day, but I know I’d abandon it if I have as many problems as you did.
Charlie: Of the negative reviews out there, most of the things I’ve pointed out are echoed. I think if you can forego credibility it’s probably alright, but it really wasn’t very well thought out.
November 16, 2011, 1:02 am
It sounds as though this book could have done with a thorough edit and a re-write. It’s unfortunate that silly mistakes, such as the colour of the underground signs, weren’t picked up during the editing process. Also, it sounds as though the author tried to pack too much into one book and just did not hit the mark.
Charlie: Yes, I think perhaps if she’d written double the amount it may have worked, because there would have been space for both threads, but it would have needed a rethink.