Review of monkey-man by Usha K R (Penguin Books, India)

The synopsis on the back cover of this book is plain misleading. It sets an expectation that the book is about a strange creature unleashing chaos on an unsuspecting city, but in reality the creature is just a red herring (it does make the occasional cameo) and the story revolves aroumonkey-mannd a few characters in a city (Bengaluru) that is transforming from a quiet town to a bustling metropolis. Add to that, there is a radio-jockey whose show spins a thread across these myriad characters. There is no story or plot to speak of but a series of disjointed anecdotes in each of the character’s lives.
The characters themselves are very richly woven and for that, the author deserves her due.  There is Shrinivas Moorty, the typical Bengaluru Brahmin who works as a lecturer at a college and his self-indulgent wife. Another whimsical character is Neela Mary Rao, administrative assistant to a peculiar Dr.Subramanyam and her disdain for Pushpa Rani, the typist. I can go on, but I think I have made my point – characters, not story is the only highlight in the monkey-man. But that is simply not enough to make this book interesting.
And there is the not-so-subtle ersatz for well known parts of Bengaluru to old-time residents such as yours truly. Like Ammanagudi vis-a-vis Basavanagudi, National Trust College for National College and a few others. Quirkily nostalgic, especially for expatriates who miss the good ol’ garden city.
But again, not enough to make the book a worthwhile read. Nevertheless, I did read it cover-to-cover and a 2008 Hollywood satire’s title sums up the feeling I was left with : “What just happened?”

Who should read it: Tough one. If you love reading about complex characters and/or like reading about middle-class life in Bengaluru, this might be your pea soup.

What it’s not: Not a tale about a strange creature that seizes the imagination of a city. Talk about false advertising!

Overall Rating: twonhalfstars

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