Thursday, 13 December 2018

Karna’s Wheel by Michael Tobert

Reviewer: Barbara Scott Emmett – author of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, The Man with the Horn and other books

What We Thought: There are two Stephens in this book – the grandfather and the grandson – both from Dundee, the city of jute. Stephen the younger inherits his grandfather’s notebooks when his half-Indian mother mysteriously dies and decides he wants to work them up into a film script. He is assisted in this endeavour by the Leprechaun-like Séamus and at times it is unclear who is writing the script as Séamus takes on Stephen's writing persona and Stephen takes on Séamus’s version of himself. Identities are fluid it seems.

Stephen the grandfather works in the jute mills in the early 20th century but after falling out of favour moves to India, only to work in the jute mills there. He falls in love with Ranjana, a radical supporter of Home Rule and finds himself torn between the British Raj and the Indian people fighting for their rights.

Stephen the grandson lives in St Andrews and is obsessed with Julia who says she comes from Provideniye but Julia demands more honesty and openness from him than he is capable of giving. Only by revealing truths about himself and his estranged mother can he draw Julia back to him. However, Stephen’s obsession with himself is perhaps greater than his obsession with Julia.

His mother, Kitty, had her own secrets, in which Stephen seems largely uninterested, despite a police enquiry into her activities.

No one is quite who they seem in this book and everyone has secrets, or at least hidden aspects of themselves. The language is at times exquisite and at times prosaic. The novel experiments with dialect but gives it up as unnecessary – as indeed it is for the voices of different nationalities are clear enough without it. Form is also occasionally part of the experiment, as is structure, but this is not a difficult book to read. It hints at Joyce but never quite goes down that road.

Mysterious and compelling, the story draws one in and though the sections on Karna, the Hindu god, are often obscure, in the end it is a fulfilling read.

I received a free ebook from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Love: Novels with various intertwining strands.
Avoid If You Dislike: Mildly experimental works.

Perfect Accompaniment: A pint at The Rook.

Genre: Literary/General Fiction

Available on Amazon

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