This month the Book Club read Ladies Coupe by Anita Nair. The story is about Akhila, a 40+ spinster who has spent her whole life caring for her family and supporting her siblings, whilst being denied a chance to live her own life.
Akhila takes a train journey to the beach resort of Kanyakumari, driven by angst and the need to break free from the shackles of her monotonous life and overbearing family.
She gets a cabin in a Ladies Only compartment (a relic of the Indian railway system - allowing women to travel safely amongst their own kind, away from the prying hands and eyes of leering males) and meets five other travellers - elderly Janaki, sassy Margaret, secretive Mari, young Sheela and socialite wife Prabha Devi.
This sets the scene for each woman to unravel her life story, and in the meantime for Akhila to gauge where she is in life and where she wants to be in contrast to her fellow travellers. It is a bit presumptuous to me that everyone joyfully spilled their guts in that train compartment, but kudos to author Anita Nair for coming up with a novel way to interject the six disparate stories together.
I can wax eloquent about how at the end of the day I found some of the stories unrealistic, but who are we to determine if it is selfish for a character to want something that is forbidden, like many of the lust-filled relationships that are portrayed in the book, or for us to question the validity of some of the scenarios that came into play; a lesbian sub-plot, tales of indiscretion or revenge, or subtle attempts at emancipation through the oddest circumstances - take Prabha's attempts to learn how to swim as a means of escaping her boredom and stoic lifestyle. Of the six characters, Mari and Margaret's charatcers were the most haunting and riveting for me. I didn't quite fully understand the gist of Prabha Devi or Janaki's tales, and Sheela's seemed inconclusive.
The book was a page-turner, and I enjoyed delving into each characters lives. I think Anita Nair did a great job in story telling, and the book certainly held my attention. Akhila's tale is haunting, and sad, and we're left hoping that she will make something of herself - the question throughout being - does a woman really need love and a man to complete her life?
If you are interested in joining "This Book Makes Me Cook" Club, drop Simran a line.
As for the "foodie" element of this book, there was an excerpt where the train stops at the town of Palghat, Kerala - and Akhila ventures out of her comfort zone to try appam - a lacy pancake and Kerala delicacy - from a railway food vendor. So I decided to try my hand at making some appams for myself, but with a trick up my sleeve....