May-Jun 2015: Review - Dreams For The Dying

Dreams For The Dying

C K Meena




Reading Hour Review

This is a very enjoyable murder mystery set across three states in South India. The book begins on a note of understated menace, with a murder, and proceeds to unravel the why. I liked the fact that there doesn’t follow a huge pile up of bodies, with gruesome killings happening every few pages to keep a reader’s interest up. CK does that rather well with her three parallel story lines, her characterisation, her spare but effective detailing of scenes and very, very short chapters – some are barely a page!

The action begins in the early hours of the morning, at a flat in Sunrise Apartments, Chennai, with a waiter from the neighbouring Elite Hotel knocking on the door. One by one, the characters are introduced – the couple, Uma and VK, who live in the flat; VK’s boisterous Saturday gang; Bharat and Jyothi in Bangalore, grappling with a disintegrating marriage, poor old Parvathyamma, increasingly troubled by the blurring together of dreams and reality; the gangster Soda Ganesh and his alleged lack of a ‘hobby’; and the elusive Radha Menon who sweeps a married man off his feet.

In this novel, train journeys are a recurring setting for introspection and life-changing events, an escape into a different world, the subject of haunting dreams and relentless ‘what-ifs’. The ‘detective’ who investigates the Chennai murder is Sub-Inspector Magesh, with sidekicks Vaidy (Vaideeswaran) and Sami (Ponnusami). The detective and his team, thankfully, aren’t caricatured to the point of absurdity. Magesh is a bachelor, and in his secret fantasies, ‘ace detective Magnum Magesh’.

In spite of all that is revealed about the protagonist Uma in the story, her essential character still feels out of reach. She puzzles and intrigues the reader throughout, just as she does SI Magesh, who struggles to make sense of the jottings in her diary. In some instances she comes across almost idiot-like – indeed she is branded ‘Tubelight’ by her sisters as a child; she is the one routinely humiliated and punished by her father, the sibling-in-the-middle with no voice or personality. And yet, she is an independent woman with a job, travelling on her own, using public transport, and unabashedly reading a magazine usually sought by middle-aged men or schoolboys.

Only in the last chapter do they break the surface, the motivations of a woman who, when she looked in the mirror, ‘saw no one special. Sometimes, she saw no one at all’.

Meena’s writing has a wonderfully local flavour and is full of humour. The plot takes one through the requisite twists and turns to a satisfying denouement. Dreams for the Dying is well worth a read.

Fans of the genre, do get hold of this book if you can, you won’t be disappointed.

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