It is time for reviewing one of the most difficult books of the year. Girl in White Cotton is a hard-hitting, unsettling, and uncontrollably awkward book.
Difficult because Avni Doshi takes upon a mother-daughter relationship that is considered one of the purest forms of humane bond and rips it open for readers in the most unconventional way possible. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, I can’t see why the judges are impressed by this book. Nothing except the writing is easily digestible about this book.
“It must be the worst kind of suffering – cognizance of one’s own collapse, the penance of watching as things slip away.”Tweet
The story depicts a troublesome relationship between a mother and a daughter. Antara and Tara can’t stand each other. Antara despises her mother. Her miseries give her pleasure. The introductory line makes it quite clear.
In the present, Tara is losing her memory slowly. She might not agree that she needs help but she does. At times, she doesn’t recognise her daughter. Her lost memories pinch Antara in the gut. Not because she is looking for a way to reconcile with her mother. But, she struggles to paint the otherwise faded memory of her mother back in her life. The once toxic relationship which she freed herself from is standing at her doorstep again only this time it is without any escape.
After reading this book, I remembered one of the mythological songs we chant here in India during the Navratri festival celebrating the nine forms of the goddess Vaishno Mata who fought against the evil.
पूत कपूत सुने है
पर ना माता सुनी कुमाता |
A child can turn out to be hurtful towards the mother,
but mothers love their children unconditionally and
sacrifice everything for them.
How can a daughter hate her mother that she can’t even breathe the same air as she does?
Tara didn’t fit in the stencil of a traditional mother. She left her husband to follow a guru, stayed in an ashram, and dragged her daughter along. She dawdled her way in hippie style, begged for food, wore white dresses to be a part of a cult, and left no opportunity to abuse Antara. So, Antara had her reasons to loathe her mother.
As the story unfolds, the author takes us on a walk through Antara’s memories in which the past is revealed with bothersome details entailing her mother and Antara. And, the story goes on. Not forward but meandering from its core. Only upon reaching towards the end, a realisation struck me that it made no sense at all. I could have just avoided reading this book.
The prose is highly cluttered with Doshi trying to accommodate too many issues together and not succeeding even at one. There is substance abuse in the presence of a child which really bothered me to the extent that I had to pause reading it for some time.
More than a story, this book is Antara’s memory which we never know for sure if it is her mind’s recipe or things really transpired the way she perceives. I feel Doshi stretched a bit too far with her imagination on this book and made it extremely convoluted. Not good convoluted like Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbag but messy convoluted. So much so that the book felt like a mechanical bull ride. No matter how hard you hold on to it, the book throws you with an intensity and speed that you don’t want to sit on it again.
In conclusion, this book deals with extremity and it is certainly not for everybody. It took me by surprise when the book picked up some pace in the middle but later on it plummeted down again.
Read it or Skip it?
I don’t recommend it. Pick it up only if you like to take a risk because trust me there are better books out there.
Do you follow Prize winners? Have you read this book? Do you feel bad about negatively reviewing a book?
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