In Short Books

Jane in Jimmy Choos: Austenistan edited by Laleen Sukhera reviewed by Sheila Kumar

Universally unacknowledged truths about the women next door

So here’s a peek at the life of the gentler sex in our neighbouring country. This lot is anything but cowed down, abaya-clad, meek or demure. They wear Western couture with élan, are generally shod in Roger Viviers and Jimmy Choos, smoke, drink, make resting bitch faces sans a qualm, join the oversubscribed Friends against Dengue Society, and are, basically, a fun bunch.

There are seven stories in this collection and the glue which binds them together is Jane Austen, of course. Each story begins with an Austen quote — interestingly enough, most of them are from the cult work, Pride and Prejudice — and then proceeds to tell us about the Pakistani protagonist, her hopes, fears, and her love life or the lack of it. The collection gets a shaky start but the tales gather strength as the book progresses.

The style is not the most subtle, the phraseology is decidedly sub-continental. In every other tale, someone speaks sotto voce, is goo-goo-eyed, gets dressed to the nines, and wears tea-pink outfits (there’s a refreshing reference though to a Pepto-Bismol pink dress in one story).

Once in a while there appears a throwaway sentence that holds a whole new story in it, like this one: “Nobody had told her marriage would be so lonely” or “I pressed to the edges of my consciousness the things I knew men were capable of.” However, they remain throwaway sentences.

The wariness associated with life in a violent country is referred to in the passing. Otherwise, Austenistan presents an altogether different Pakistan — one populated with ingénues, shrewd aunties, grand-shand heroes, one where secret swinger clubs and multiple dating apps thrive. And here’s the thing: none of the homegrown heroes makes the reader’s heart beat fast while a Count in Lichtenstein, far removed from Pakistan, is quite the sexiest character.

Overall, you get the feeling that a local book club got together to do Austen rip-offs/ tweaks/ updates, and the best were compiled into a book... voilàAustenistan!

An independent writer, manuscript editor and author, the writer is based in Bengaluru.

Austenistan; ed Laleen Sukhera, Bloomsbury, ₹350

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Printable version | Mar 27, 2020 2:32:02 AM |

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