Perumal Murugan's Pyre: No Booker 2023 shortlist, but still a worthy read!
When this book ‘Perumal Murugan’s Pyre’ got longlisted for the International Booker Prize 2023, the first thing I did was order it. I am a huge Murugan admirer. Maybe, simply, because I started with ‘One Part Woman’, one of his finest works.
It has been a while since I finished the book. In part, I was letting the book settle with me. In part, I was lazy to write simply because it was so difficult to talk about Perumal Murugan’s books without spoiling them. It takes a wafer-thin plot and then builds on it. His storytelling has this extraordinary capability of building on simple conflicts in society and that’s all. His books are more subject-driven than story-driven, quite like James Joyce’s Ulysses or J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher In the Rye. A subject is introduced that challenges the conventions of society, hence a point of conflict. And, then we see Murugan’s mastery in exploring how society deals with it, quite concentric circles. It is like a story narrated in forms of shapes.
Perumal Murugan’s Pyre, book review
An innocent couple gets into an inter-caste marriage. The love between Saroja and Kumaresan makes them believe that society would accept their union. Saroja after a hurried, and hasty marriage goes to Kumaresan village. Kumaresan has assured her that everything would be fine. People would create some drama but will accept the two.
Anything apart from this would be a spoiler. Hence, I would leave the reader to experience the book.
The book evidently talks about how disproportionate the institution of marriage impacts women. In addition, the tone of the last 20-30 pages reminded me of the Kannada book Vivek Shanbhag’s ‘Ghachar Ghochar’. I loved ‘Ghachar Ghochar’. Quite like the Kannada book, Pyre brings the realities of intolerance and resistance to change in society. And, the extent to which society to it’ll push to sustain the status quo. An extent where society has to sacrifice the fundamentals of society itself.
A digression. This thought is nicely explored in 2019’s Malayalam film, Jallikattu-based S. Hareesh’s short story ‘Maoist’.
The more literature I have read, somehow I am losing my grip on Murugran’s imagination. Estuary was the last book I read of him before Pyre, and somehow that book didn’t work for me at all. I thought he was trying to do too much while his prowess lay in simplicity and realism. Although, through this book, he did get back. I am yet to read Poonchi, considered to be his finest work.
I wasn’t surprised when Pyre didn’t get through to Booker’s shortlist. It is a good book, but definitely not his best. Nonetheless, Perumal Murugan is a remarkable writer. And, this is what I am saying a curious reader, not a literary critic.
Written By Rajeev. He likes to know about human experiences and the evolution of society. And, if you don’t find him reading a book then, you’d find him watching a film.
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