Title: The Lilac House
Author: Anita Nair
Release Date: April 24, 2012
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre: Literary Fiction, Cultural Fiction (South Asian)
Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Rating: 4 out of 5
Meena enjoys being a corporate wife, so much that she wrote a bestselling book about it. But when her beloved husband, Giri, leaves her unexpectedly, Meena doesn’t know what to do or how to support her children, mother, and grandmother, all of whom live together in a lilac house in Bangalore, India. At the party where Giri leaves her, Meena meets Professor J.A. Krishnamurthy, also known as Jak, who has problems of his own. His beloved daughter, Smriti, was grievously injured in an accident, but Jak wants to learn the truth about what really happened to her.
The Lilac House features two very different, but strong characters: Meena and Jak. Meena is proud of her status as a corporate wife and bestselling cookbook writer, but things aren’t as rosy as they appear under the surface. After Giri leaves, Meena is desperate to write another book, but her publisher has lost faith in her. She must draw on all her mental and emotional resources as she tries to provide for her family. Though Meena starts out the book primarily defined as a wife, she quickly breaks out of that mold, becoming an independent and capable woman in her own right.
Jak’s situation is a bit more complicated than Meena’s in The Lilac House. He is a bereft father; his wife has left him and taken their other daughter, so Smriti is all Jak has left. He is consumed by her tragic fate. The only thing that will bring him peace is to learn what happened to Smriti, yet the more he is informed about his daughter’s actions, the more disillusioned he becomes. Meena serves to ground Jak, to remind him why life is worth living, even when things appear bleak.
Jak is an expert on cyclones, and it’s this profession that frames the narrative. Just as storms have their stages and cycles, so does the book. It makes for an interesting structure, as readers have a preview of the tone of what is to happen through Jak’s writings.
Though the storyline and title of The Lilac House may make it seem like a light, easy read, it’s definitely not that. The writing is very literary and the book moves at a slow pace. Nair has beautiful prose, to be sure, but those looking for a quick, satisfying read won’t find it within these pages. Indeed, Nair chooses to avoid tidy endings, preferring the complication and messiness of real life. She also tackles many issues that make the book very relevant.
If you’re interested in contemporary novels that include issues that face modern India, yet are, at their core, about the lives people lead, The Lilac House is a great pick. It’s not the easiest read, but it’s well worth is as Nair brings India alive for the reader and illuminates her setting through her descriptive prose. The characters are vibrant and well-written, and though the book could have easily become dry, Nair ensures that it’s full of the wonder and richness that readers of literary fiction truly enjoy.