My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Breathlessly narrated memoir posing as fiction. Has superb impressionistic prose with some of the best descriptions of Delhi I’ve read (and I’m counting City of Djinns and Capital here). Female sexual awakening & the perils of living in Delhi are the central themes of A Bad Character; how a 20-year-old college girl discovers life beyond classes and staid middle-class existence, aided by an ‘ugly’, dark, animal-like man (who looks like a servant, if not for his New York accent) whom she picks up at a cafe in Khan Market, because it turns her on, him being ugly and her being beautiful. He takes her to places in the city she would have never known, woos her vigorously and with considerable charm, before both of them latch on to the customary fate of rich, entitled Delhi boys who don’t need to work a day in their lives: the high road of alcohol, drugs, sex and ennui. Yes, the risque Indian novel is finally here.
I suspect the author wrote this book as therapy, in a sort of mad hurry to expel the memories of descending down the self-destructive spiral of substance abuse and casual sex out of her system. There’s an honesty to it that seems autobiographical (and this cursory hypothesis is backed by an article by her on HuffPost about how Ashtanga Yoga helped her stop being a ‘party girl’). However, A Bad Character is ultimately let down by its unimaginative plot, though narrated imaginatively, with a jagged narrative structure that alternates between first-person and third-person; it’s a brave book that narrates an all too familiar tale with a style that’s all her own; a slim book that you’ll probably finish in a sitting, like doing a quick line of coke in the hotel bathroom.