Before The Sunset - by Lakshmi Menon: A Beautiful, Hard-hitting Novel
by Jagari Mukherjee
(Kolkata, West Bengal, India)
"Before the Sunset" is Lakshmi Menon's new novel. It is a heart-touching page turner, while being a hard-hitting and realistic slice of life. The plot mainly deals with the fortunes of two families, that of Raju and Dr. Manoj, which are interwoven by Fate. It is only at the end that the two threads come together.
The story starts as a heart-stopper, the experience being akin to plunging one’s hand into ice-cold water. Raju, the protagonist, returns home from office to find his wife, Viji, critically ill. She passes away giving birth to a baby girl, whom Raju hands over to the childless Dr. Manoj. The story then follows two separate bit interrelated plots, following the fortunes of Raju, his second wife Janaki and his son Tarun on one side, and Dr. Manoj, his wife Shobha and adopted daughter Deepthi on the other. The revelation of the truth about Deepthi’s origin comes at the end when Raju meets Deepthi.
The main strength of the novel lies in its characterization. Menon has sketched well-fleshed out characters. From the archetypal common man Raju, to his increasingly belligerent wife, Janaki, to the kind Dr. Manoj and charming Deepthi – these characters remain etched in our minds long after we have finished reading the novel. There are humorous touches in the depiction of Paru Amma, the servant, and the child Kiran’s innocent love for baby Deepthi add a light touch to the plot.
Menon shows remarkable knowledge of human psychology in the changing relationship between Janaki and Tarun after Bindu is born: the depiction of jealousy and resentment between the two is sad, but realistic. On the other hand, the love between Deepthi and Kiran in Chapter Forty is wholesome and heartening, and leads to a happy marriage that brings much relief to the readers.
The author also has a remarkable eye for details. For instance, she describes vividly how Shobha puts eyetex on baby Deepthi’s eyes, ‘pottu’ on her forehead and a black dot on the cheek “to wade off any evil eye.” The setting of the novel is in South India, and the author’s skillful use of language carries the flavour of South Indian culture and tradition.
"Before The Sunset" is a beautiful, realistic novel that is definitely worth a read. The author takes her readers on a journey into the lives of some really unforgettable characters.
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