Durjoy Datta’s “The Boy who Loved” markets itself as a Romance Novel, and has been claimed to be the fastest selling Romance Novel of 2017 (in India). The first of a two-part romance, “The Boy who Loved” traces the seemingly ordinary whereabouts of its 16 year old protagonist, Raghu Ganguly. The novel is an epistolary novel, written as a series of diary entries spanning a period of a little over a year.
The simplicity of the plot wraps itself around the intricate use of words to paint some of the most stunning images that dance around the ever racing, over thinking mind of little Raghu. Perspective is key here; it brings forth the nostalgia of holding hands and hiding pimples that would otherwise be left neglected. The plot in itself does nothing for the book, which is obviously a little disheartening and slightly expectable, and it is in fact the crisp diary entries that keep the pace of the story intact. Barring one (maybe two) unexpected twist(s), and the double edged sword of suicidal protagonists, the plot is generic and monotonous; and while such a run of the mill plot may seem to be the only way to go about considering how we are discussing the turmoil in an average boy’s life, there seems to be a muffled cry for a breakthrough that is inherent in the book, and can be attributed to both the plot and its protagonist. Having said that, there is still a part of the story that will be unveiled in the next book, so hope for salvation is a candle still burning strong.
The book is built around various social and religious constructs, loaded with presumptions that blend perfectly in the average middle class setting of the novel. The dualities of love and hate, and anger and tranquility are balanced at the pinpoint of these presumptions and it is the tipping of this scale from one end to the other that defines the growth and change in Raghu’s character, in turn making him not only dynamic, but also likeable. The household setting portrays the importance of family in an Indian subculture, and brings about a dependence in Raghu’s attributes, making it impossible for his character to progress without whereabouts of the people in his family and nullifying all the emphasis on his ardent desire of solitude through death.
Suicide, though already far too glorified in popular culture, finds not one, but two homes in “The Boy who Loved”. What makes it interesting is how subtly persistent it gets as the novel progresses. Starting from the cover of the novel, which displays all the high-rise buildings Raghu would love to jump off of, to the post script in every other diary entry marking an addition to Raghu’s personal inventory of tall buildings, suicide here is a sword being used as a toothpick, which of course has the benefit of taking the fear out of it and bringing it into a safe space to be talked about, but can also be seen as an act of toying with something that can and does affect many lives. The act of romanticizing suicide through Raghu’s love story with Brahmi and the importance given to their desire of taking their own life is, though short-lived and patchy, slightly disturbing. The inadequacies in the potential for growth in these characters is overpowered by the dynamic of the subplots that takes centre stage in the latter half of the novel, thus paving the way for the possibility of an aversion to the predictable end of the story. The book ends on a bittersweet note, with a ray of hope shining somewhere on the horizon and the omnipresent sword of suicide still partially midair, so maybe even in all this chaos, there is some clarity waiting to shine through.
A major flaw in the book is the attention to detail, or rather the lack thereof. Attention to detail is a stepchild that is only tended to when somebody else is looking, which leads to facts turning into unsolvable mathematical equations that never will truly add up, and for a book that has already sold a over a lakh copies, this is callous to say the least. The errors that are evident may only be enough to count on one hand’s fingers, but they can spark a disinterest and a sense of annoyance in the reader who has been distracted because the facts don’t fit right. Another minor issue is that there isn’t really anything happening in the book that seems to be inducing Raghu’s desire to end his life, and the cause of the decision to eventually commit suicide and the resultant counting of the final days is something that seems baseless, or, at least for now, somewhere in a foggy background. There is thus a lot of potential in how drastically the second part can make or break the entire story, or rather the characters and their being, and that’s what creates an anticipation and excitement for part II.
In a nutshell, “The Boy who Loved” is best read either in one sitting, or staying true to its series name “Penguin Metro Reads”, while travelling. This is because the novel isn’t about the story that cannot pull you back once you put it down, but the words that have been used to tell it, and the quality of the language used is what makes the story worthwhile. It is refreshing to see how English does not taste foreign when mixed with names like Anirban and Raghu, it does not feel out of place when embodied by people in saris and kurta pajamas and is accommodating enough to fit in a few Bengali slangs here and there, and isn’t that what every millennial novel strives to do anyway?