Abandon by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay

At points Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay's new novel is remarkably effective, but at times its style feels overly laboured

Book Review by Annie Rutherford | 06 Oct 2017
  • Abandon by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay
Book title: Abandon
Author: Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay, tr. Arunava Sinha

A woman who is at heart a storyteller finds herself alone with her young son in an unfriendly city. Her struggle for their survival is made ever more difficult by her son’s growing illness, while repeatedly coming into conflict with her own desire to live a meaningful life as an artist, an author.

Abandon, a novel by Bengali author Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay, skilfully presents its narrator’s two opposing personalities – 'I', the novelist, and 'Ishwari', the mother – in a neat depiction of the ways in which our contradictory desires pull us in directions so different as to be irreconcilable. Yet the narrator’s constant self-criticism makes it hard for the reader to warm towards her. Even as we root for Ishwari’s survival in this harsh society, the frequent unlikability of the majority of the characters makes Abandon an occasionally unpalatable read.

What might have been a fairly simple plot gains complexity due to the narrator’s vocation as a novelist. The story is very self-consciously precisely that: a story, driven by narrative conventions as the 'I' understands them. At points this is remarkably effective, critiquing literature’s pretensions to social engagement as well as the need for conflict to drive plot forward. At other times, however, it feels overly laboured, weighing down Ishwari, the text and – with it – the reader. 

Published by Tilted Axis Press, RRP £8.99