Friday, November 26, 2021

The Archer by Shruti Swamy


I follow a lot of artists on Twitter and sometimes I'll see furniture that would make terrible furniture but interesting art, which begs the question of how far functionality ought to be sacrificed for aesthetics before the object in question ceases to be the thing for which it has its name. I mean, you know those terrible-looking chairs that are covered in twisty spikes and made of fiberglass and metal that just scream "lower back pain!" Sure, it looks cool, but would you want it in your living room? Some books are like that. In their quest to become AAAHRT, they sacrifice readability and even the reader's enjoyment, and at some point it ceases to become entertainment because it sacrifices clear and concise prose for literary merit.

It is, in essence, an uncomfortable chair.

THE ARCHER felt a lot like that for me. It has incredibly affected prose and why I can see why the author made some of the artistic choices she did, it didn't always work for me. The beginning is disorienting and I think it's supposed to capture the rapid blur of childhood, and how it comes at a clip, but it also made the writing hard to follow. Later, as the main character, Vidya, grows older, her writing becomes clearer and more introspective, but there's still a whirl of chaos and commas that makes the prose feel like the spinning of a dervish, and I think that's intentional, to capture the chaos of dancing, but it is A LOT.

Also-- the story is pretty depressing. Vidya has a hard life, and a mother who struggles with mental illness. The title comes from a story in Indian mythology about an archer who wants to become the very best and promises his guru anything, and the guru demands the severance of his thumb so he can't become better than his own favored pupil. It's a book about sacrifice and from the moment I read that passage, I knew it wouldn't have an ending I like, because as an artist, reading about artists who give up everything for their art only to have their stories end in tragedy is pretty disillusioning.

This is an interesting coming-of-age story set in 1960s/70s India and I think the author has interesting things to say. I found myself entranced by the descriptions of dancing and how the main character poured herself into it as a way of expressing herself in a socially acceptable way, but it was hard to read and not really all that fun to read, so even though it wasn't a bad book I'm not sure I'd recommend it.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!

2.5 out of 5 stars

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