The Finger Puppet – Anu Jayanth

17 Mar

Reading The Finger Puppet on the heels of Lost Flamingoes of Bombay,  was very reassuring – all is not lost with Indian writing.  Which brings me to my pet peeve – that authentic and deserving writers rarely get nominated for those awards. Shashi Deshpande’s In the Country of Deceit was the Indian nominee for the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize recently and Siddharth Shangvi’s book has also been nominated for some vague award.  I can see why Aamir Khan doesn’t believe in awards now.

Sorry for the digression, and let me get on with my views on this superb novel. The Finger Puppet is a brilliant book, period. Anu Jayanth knows her craft well which, to put it simply, in the case of a novelist is having a story to tell and saying it well. This is a coming of age book and deals with some uneasy truths and questions several conventional mores. Set in Trichy, the plot revolves around young Tara and her middle class family. Lonely and suffering from a speech impediment Tara creates a finger puppet, Gayatri who becomes her doppelganger and the narrator of the story. The story traces the struggle of Tara to find her identity – from  a timid and diffident pre-teen who is dependent on her puppet to give voice to her feelings and emotions to independence and freedom.

The characterisation is very well done. Gayatri obviously is the most distinctly developed of the lot. However the others are also well drawn, my favourite is Padma as the strong and upright older sister. Haughty Cordelia as the enfant terrible is involuntarily playing the sutradhar. (Anu has created a twist using the name Cordelia, this one is far from long suffering as compared to the original, though she is willing to state her point even in the face of abuse). I am quite impressed at the way Anu has created the character of the abusive Appa. through the eyes of Gayatri. And by that what she has effectively done is create an aura of terror and dark mystery around him. Amma is the weak character and at times is not consistent.

If I thought that God of Small Things and Purple Hibiscus had striking similarities, Anu Jayanth’s book and Adichie’s novel share several more – Tara and Kambli, the relationship between Kambli and Jaja echoes in the one between Tara and Gayatri, Tara’s infatuation with Vedprakash is similar to Kambli’s feelings for Father Amada.  Amma and Mama as the long suffering spouses, the abuse, the abortions, the trauma. And above all the abusive patriarchs Eugene and Mr. Ramakrishnan. I will concede that Anu’s characters are better etched.

Now my criticisms about the book. Anu has tried to pack too much into one book and therefore at times loses grip on an otherwise strong and gripping narrative. It does meander a bit at times and I did skip a few pages. There are instances where she has not effectively connected the dots and some characters and instances hang limply. Also having a twelve year old talking or even thinking on deep philosophical matters is a little far stretched.

My advice – read and be proud of Indian fiction.


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18 responses to “The Finger Puppet – Anu Jayanth

  1. Magaret

    February 14, 2014 at 9:38 am

    whoah this weblog is fantastic i really like studying your
    articles. Keep up the great work! You already know, many persons are searching round for this info, you could aid them greatly.

  2. Rima Kaur

    March 14, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    oh i would just like to point out that family is not really middle class, as you’ve mentioned. good review. i have read this book a couple of times and have always thoroughly enjoyed it.

  3. ravisidula

    March 5, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    Its nice to know about budding Indian writers. I too love reading indian short stories as one can relate to the characters and stories. I do my best in my own way promoting indian writers by reading their books and stuff.
    Can i know how do i get a copy of the same.

    Very true Anu, its very difficult to find readers for a book and sometimes the flame in us dies when we find that our work hasnt covered the horizon it had to. But lets not give up the hope. Please do continue writing.

    I myself like writing short stories. I feel eternal happiness when I pen down the feelings onto the paper.

    All the best to your future works


    • davematt

      March 8, 2010 at 3:15 am

      Thanks Ravi, I have been egging Anu to complete her second novel. She says its progressing well 🙂

  4. pooja samant

    May 22, 2009 at 5:17 pm

    personally ,not liked d book,much.Its too descriptive.storywise doesnt move ahead.

  5. ish

    April 21, 2009 at 9:57 am

    Nice blogging..good summarization of the story….

    • davematt

      April 22, 2009 at 1:02 pm

      Thanks Ishita, it is a great book

  6. Anu Jayanth

    March 24, 2009 at 12:43 am

    Oh. Hmmmm. We-ll, I haven’t read that book…not that reading it would help. I have a hard time being critical. I thoroughly enjoyed The White Tiger, and the Last Song of Dusk. I must read Adichie’s…to see what you mean

    Oh you did? Perhaps when I go to India this fall, I’ll get to actually see The Finger Puppet in a bookstore 🙂

  7. Anu Jayanth

    March 23, 2009 at 2:53 am

    I win, I win, I win …see at my age, I can act like a three year old 🙂

    Five more would-be readers, many thanks!

    Yes, I have been reading your other posts and reassuring to know that readers and writers like you are not easily swayed by award winning books and go purely by talent.

    A thank you in advance to Suneetha for her determination to hunt out The Finger Puppet. The last time I spoke to someone in Bangalore I heard that the book was dead and to think I never got to even see it in a bookstore. Waaaah! One of my sisters lives in Bangalore and I was there for three months. waiting, waiting, waiting, and then I gave up.

    I was painting all day, joyously, and finally the paintings are beginning to reflect the wild and crazy colors in my mind. It’s been wonderful chatting with you, truly wonderful.

    By the way I blog too, nothing intellectual, just pure drivel 🙂 check out my website when you have a moment, www.

    • davematt

      March 23, 2009 at 3:56 am

      And the winner at Vodafone Crossword Award was a lame attempt at writing. I haven’t even considered reading it.

      All is not lost, I saw your book at both Crossword and Blossom recently 🙂

  8. Anu Jayanth

    March 21, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    Hi again DM, thought I’d say a bit more this time. About your remark on the twelve year old child’s philosophical bent being a little far stretched, what is the right age for a child to compose music, write poetry or think philosophically? I’d say, given the kind of atmosphere this child was raised in, it’s only natural for her to be more introspective. Circumstances can change a child into an adult or an adult into a child. Yes? By the way, I just learnt from HarperCollins India, that only 1400 copies of The Finger Puppet sold in a country of about a billion people, hardly an incentive for me to want to write again, especially with a 7.5 % royalty. Because it’s not available here in the US, I have had to buy my own books and gift them to friends, even mail them in some cases. I am beginning to feel embarrassed to tell people that I am a writer. But when I get feedback from people like you and from my other readers, then I feel that the many years I spent in writing The Finger Puppet was well worth it and I now hold you all in my thoughts as I play with new ideas for the next novel 🙂

    • davematt

      March 22, 2009 at 2:41 pm

      Hi Anu,

      Thank you for dropping in again. I will agree with you, grudgingly though. If Tara was based on your childhood then I can see why she thinks far ahead of the pack :-).

      I completely buy what you say about how deserving writers not having enough reason to write again. And one of the reasons why I blog about IWE is precisely that (it is not much, but I know atleast 5 people who would buy your book now :-)).

      If you follow my posts, I have always maintained it is unfair that marketing sometimes takes credence over pure talent. And if you cant beat them join them :-).


  9. Jay

    March 18, 2009 at 11:42 pm

    Hi Davematt,

    Great idea for a blog, and terrific reviews. O.k., so I am not completely unbiased. I am Anu’s husband, and share your opinion of her work. She’s wonderful, and a superb writer, I think!

    I also liked – and agreed with – your review of The White Tiger!

    Whenever I found myself in India, which used to be fairly often until this economic crisis set in, I would always make it a point to spend at least a few hours in Pune’s bookstores shopping for good IWE.

    I learnt very quickly that the hugely popular Crosswords stores offer very slim pickings in this area. Landmark is my favorite store in that city.

    Any thoughts on who stocks the best selection?



    • davematt

      March 19, 2009 at 3:33 am

      Hi Jay,

      Thank you so so much for your comment, made my day :-).

      I am not too sure about bookstores in Pune, however, I can tell you about Bangalore. My favorite is a store called Blossom on Church Street diagonally opposite Amoeba. It is an unpretentious store but has the best collection of IWE.

      And while you are out searching for Indian novels, how about getting Anu to launch her next novel 🙂

      Do keep dropping by.


  10. Anu Jayanth

    March 17, 2009 at 10:57 pm

    Thanks for reading my novel…and for this wonderful review. Anu

    • davematt

      March 18, 2009 at 3:14 am

      Thanks Anu, for dropping by. Looking forward to your next book.

  11. suneetha

    March 17, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    wandered into your blog through a google alert and I am glad I came here… I am someone who reads IWE like crazy and love and promote it all I can… happy to see a soul with the same thoughts… I will def hunt out the Finger Puppet and get back here with my impressions…


    • davematt

      March 18, 2009 at 3:15 am

      Hey thanks so much Suneetha, thrilled to meet another IWE lover.


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