Lit for Life

Of passion and prose

Sea Horse, Janice Pariat

Sea Horse, Janice Pariat  

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Janice Pariat’s Seahorse is shortlisted for The Hindu Prize 2015. She never loses sight of the plot, never lets the beauty of the prose forge ahead and overwhelm the story

There are layers to Janice Pariat’s debut novel, Seahorse; equally rich, complimentary layers that can survive together, or individually. Pariat retells, at one level, the myth of Poseidon and his love for the beautiful Pelops; those familiar with their story from Greek mythology will find its age-old threads woven between the more contemporary ones of Pariat’s novel. Yet, even without the knowledge of Poseidon’s passion, Pariat’s story holds its own, a study in gentle intensity and raw, almost painfully honest portrayal of human emotions.

Seahorse, shortlisted for The Hindu Prize 2015, has been called a coming-of-age novel, but it is difficult to pin it down to a specific genre, a particular label. In Pariat’s protagonist and first person narrator, Nehemiah, or Nem, we find an unlikely hero, who inhabits a story about love, betrayal, loneliness and adventure.



Swati Daftuar


In the 1990s, Nem is a college student in Delhi. He’s young, impressionable, and ready to fall in love. He finds his answer in Nicholas, an art historian who becomes his mentor and lover. There is something vulnerable about Nem, about his passion, and Pariat’s description of both the city and Nem’s relationship with Nicholas is evocative and erotic, so that the two exist in synergy, incomplete without the other. The impression you get, then, is that this story could only be told with the words Pariat uses, that it could only exist in the setting she places them in.

The question of Nem’s sexuality seems almost incidental. Pariat keeps Nem from dwelling on it, taking it apart and analysing it. Instead, she gives it room to just exist, so that instead of thinking of it in terms of homosexuality, you think of it as plain old love.

For months, Nem finds himself consumed with this love, and then, inexplicably, devoid of it. Nicholas’ disappearance from Nem’s life comes almost gently, but immediately becomes the central, most defining moment in the novel. As he disappears from his rented bungalow in Rajpur Road, Nicholas leaves a different, bewildered, hurt Nem behind, and when the book begins, it is this Nem who becomes our narrator.

Pariat works with a fluid timelines, easily switching between the past and present, between geographical boundaries and emotional spaces. Nem’s quest takes him to London, and Pariat displays another triumph, her description of the city so evocative, so intensely real, that you know she writes from a place of deep personal bond. From London to Delhi, Pariat’s descriptions are tantalising, her choice of words so right, so carefully arranged, that the result is almost musical. From Delhi University’s hazy summers to Soho’s bright lanes and bylanes, Pariat captures scenes in words, but presents them through senses, so we find ourselves with the smells and touch and sight of the experience.

The book could be described as slow-paced, because the sense it leaves you with is of time standing still, even as it moves on. Yet, in its own way, Seahorse is packed with action, with multiple secrets and twists and turns. Pariat never loses sight of the plot, never lets the beauty of the prose forge ahead and abandon the story.

The sense of the lack of movement, of the slow, almost melancholic quality of the book, comes from Nem himself. He carries within him a kind of solitude that never really leaves him after Nicholas has left, and to a certain extent, after his childhood friend Lenny’s death.

Pariat tells a beautiful story, an intuitive tale that welcomes you into a world of beautiful words and places. It’s a complex world, swirling with tragedy and joy, love and pain, and it seems quite like an honour to be invited in.

Seahorse; Janice Pariat, Random House India, Rs.499.

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