THE ENGLISH alphabet has only 26 characters. For a reader finishing the last pages of Alphabet Soup for Lovers by Anita Nair, that is a problem. Or maybe not, depending on how you want to see things.
If it’s a quick, ‘chicklit’ read you crave, the small book is just right, taking up not more than an hour of your time.
But some might see it as disappointing. Not because the book is bad, but because it could have been so much better had the author not written an abbreviated version of what could have been a layered, complex and beautiful love story.
It has all the right ingredients for a good story—a bored film star and a bored housewife in the backdrop of the solitude and beauty of the tea plantations of Tamil Nadu. The treatment is also novel—a narrative by the cook of the house, who observes the extramarital affair unfolding, almost mimicking her own love story decades ago, as she takes the help of cooking ingredients to learn the English alphabet. In fact, while the story itself is quite predictable, it’s the cook’s notes on the ingredients that make for far more interesting reading.
But the author takes a very simplistic view of things in an effort to give readers a ‘happy ending’. For one, it makes you wonder how a person could leave behind memories of 38 years spent in one place and a 14-year-old marriage without a backward glance, with just a shawl for company? Because, wasn’t it the bored film star who had ‘escaped’ it all to this remote tea plantation, and not the other way around? If a return to status quo is the writer’s idea of a happy ending, it pretty much has all the chances of ending with a flat tyre, as the cook portends, as she watches the couple in love drive away.
There are some contradictions too in sketching the characters. If the husband is really that cold a fish, who is the flirtatious character described in the book, the one who manages to attract the attention of all the women at a party, and flirts with them outrageously? And not give his wife a second glance? Maybe that’s what most marriages have come to be about. And, it is here that the writer chooses to wrap things up fast, instead of taking her time, going deep into what made two marriages fall apart and one love affair bloom.