Monday, October 13, 2008

Possessed by Shadows/ Donigan Merritt

I don’t usually review books in this blog, but this is an important novel, and I want to share my reading experience. The novel is Possessed by Shadows by Donigan Merritt (Other Press, New York).

PBS is about a woman climber Molly – a terminal brain tumour patient – and her husband Tom, also a climber, taking a trip to the mountains to fulfill her desire to die in the mountains, her passion for the better part of her 34 years of life. It’s epic material, and Donigan handles it with just as deftness and restraint as it demands.

You find two voices in the novel: Tom’s sophisticated, savvy, occasionally morose voice, and Molly’s unfettered, jovial and confessional one. Together they create their individual and collective stories, and form a unique narrative that is fascinating and irresistible. But the novel’s main strength is its humanity quotient. The novel is full of guileless but believable characters all belonging to the community of climbers. Their actions and talks seem to be brimming with humanity, in a land not really famous for it, and never for once flag and suck.

Towards the end of 239-page book, you see Tom carrying Molly on his back strapped in a rescue chair up the slope braving the odd weather. Stefan, his friend, another climber accompanies him. “She did not speak, but Sefran told me that from time to time her eyes were open and she seemed to be trying to focus.” Then Molly dies in the circumstances she craved for, but she had already been in a coma. “I saw blood trickling from her ear. She struggled for air less than 10 seconds and then stopped. Everything stopped and there was only the wind buffeting the tent walls…I ran my fingers through her fine long hair. She was dead.” Great depiction, without being banal or stereotype.

But PBS is as much about death as about life. Or rather, it’s a riveting narrative about a circle we call human life.

I think Donigan Merritt is a brilliant and real writer. I recommend this novel to all readers of literary fiction.

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