April 04, 2019

Of Weak Prose and Weaker Characters: Typically Tanya is the most pointless book ever (Book review)

I did not think it was possible for books to be this pointless, but I guess you learn something new every day. What fascinates me is that not only did the author write this and think ‘Ah yes, something worth publishing’, he must have then proceeded to show it to friends and family, the way one does, who also, for some absurd reason, said ‘Yes, this is a great book’. Then this book wound up in the hands of an editor, who also—and we’re approaching acute disbelief territory here—thought this could be salvaged. Then this book went out into the world, and people parted with their hard earned money for it. The only saving grace of this whole fiasco is the fact that I borrowed this book instead of buying it.

I mean, I’ve read bad books before, but I’ve rarely read any which tried so very hard to be funny and relevant and failed so very spectacularly. Tanya, our eponymous heroine, is what I imagine the author wanted to write as a crossover between Bridget Jones and Saba Imtiaz’s heroine in Karachi You’re Killing Me! But while Helen Fielding got the humour and the cheesy shipping right, and Saba Imtiaz was spot on with her desi references, Kehar unfortunately got almost all of it wrong. 

Even the blurb is misleading. Tanya does, in fact, sleep with her best friend’s fiancĂ©, and her best friend does then get jilted at the alter because her man runs away with yet another woman, but none of that plays a significantly large enough role in the plot for it to be the focus of the blurb. In fact, after having read the book, it’s hard to see what the main plot was. Mainly it feels like a portion of a twenty-something woman’s diary through one random, uneventful portion of her life. Sure, things happen, but it’s hard to see how they are meant to make a cohesive whole, with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Mostly this has to do with the characters themselves, who feel dreary and purposeless. Starting with the protagonist, who never once managed to make me laugh, to the whole cast of characters around her, all of whom I cared about not a whit, almost all the players in this story were too weakly drawn for us to care about. Tanya’s separated parents create a very limited depth of feeling in Tanya, and her mother is a caricature of an overprotective, nagging woman who regularly shrieks and is dramatic for no reason at all. Tanya also regularly jokes about sending her mother to a mental institution, in a joke that feels less like a realistic depiction of a child frustrated with their parent and more in the grey areas of inappropriate and politically incorrect. 

Political correctness is a thing that the author clearly cares about a lot, in that he seems to have the right ideas about what women can and cannot do. But unlike in Imtiaz’s novel, where her character smokes in the open to make a point without being didactic, Kehar’s writing comes off as moralizing. In fact, in almost all things that should have been seamlessly inserted into the narrative, there is an obvious attempt to include that particular event into the book. This is especially true for all the political events that Tanya and her friends refer to. Of course, it makes sense that a newspaper editor’s life would be dictated by the things happening in their city and country and in the world at large, and even Pakistanis unconnected to the reporting of news get affected by the politics of a country, but there is so obvious a gap in the natural flow of the story and the mention of these updates that they feel forced. I don’t want to see the author trying so hard and ultimately failing, because to me, as a reader, I end up suffering from second hand embarrassment. Effortlessness, I guess, is what I was looking for, and what I did not find. 

Usually when I review something I add quotes from the book itself, but with this title I was basically struggling to just end the torture. I checked how many pages were left at least fifty seven times after I reached the last quarter. That should give you some idea of how invested I was in what was going on in the story: mainly, not at all. Tanya’s on again off again love affair with her friend Hafeez (whom I kept confusing with her boss Hassan) and her weird, antagonistic friendships with the other women in her life feel too convoluted to care about. Tanya doesn’t seem to actually like any of the people in her life, casually backbiting or being disdainful about almost everyone she comes in contact with, which makes us care about them even less. Even when the author attempts to do something right, such as introduce a gay character into the narrative, he spends more time setting up the character to show what kind of person Tanya is in response to his gayness rather than create a complex, three dimensional character in Adam. 

Another thing I do when I write a review is trying to figure out exactly whom I would recommend the book to. Even if it’s a bad book, I consider the masochist, or the reader with nothing else to do. For this particular book though, I couldn’t think of a single person I’d recommend it to, because unlike other particularly horrible ones I could mention which were so bad so as to be a complete experience (Sara Naveed and H. M. Naqvi come to mind), this book is just boring and badly written. But then I realized that this book is perfect for the amateur author, because if crap like this can get published, than anything can. Which means we all have a very good chance! In fact, probably more than just a good chance, because of the aforementioned absolute crappiness of this book. 

So there you go, a positive note to end this review, and now I will proceed to eject all memories of the time I wasted reading this while sobbing about its mind-numbing atrociousness to my husband. At least there’s one person who was quite amused, and who enjoyed my periodical ranting about the whole thing.