'How To Steal a Ghost @ Manipal' | Book Review

Rated: 3 out of 5


HOW TO READ A BOOK ABOUT GHOSTS
Do you know the best way to read a thriller / horror book?

When you read it in the dead of a cold dreary night, preferably with a torrential rain pounding around you with flashes of lightning and the frightened squeals of stray dogs as they scurry under some leaky shelter running from the booming thunder that follows it. All of this, preferably when the power's out and there's no white noise from a ceiling fan to keep you centered. Now, all you have to do is read your horror book from cover to cover in one single long sitting. 

Of course, if you needed such a setting to read a thriller book, mother nature shall provide in the form of the monsoon season. But, does that candle light still make reading this book seem pleasant? Don't worry, technology shall provide. In the form of an ebook being read in the dark with your phone being the only glowing light to capture your terror-struck face as you let your imagination paint the pictures that the book cover is too shy to reveal.
Shweta Taneja forces each of [the characters] to change as the fictional time passes by...

It started early evening (or pre-evening) with me picking to read a frequent adolescent read of mine, 'The Greatest Ghost Stories of the 20th century', which was followed by another childhood favorite simply named, 'Ghost Stories from India' - all to the background of cars cutting through rain-flooded streets in flying jets of water, the distant hum of a celebration, and dogs barking excitedly of owners returning home early. After reading these two grim books back to back, I needed a palate cleanser (of sorts) just when the rain shorted out one of the power towers and the neighborhood was plunged into darkness as the dying sun was further engulfed by those heavy monsoon clouds. Not discouraged, I whipped out my phone, shuffled some pillows around, and started reading 'The greatest criminals from the 19th and 20th century'. A palate cleanser indeed. All with the background sounds of workers fixing the power outage, creaky gates opening for cars coming home tired at the day's end, the sound of civilization sighing when the lights came back on, and the clouds stopping for a breather, suddenly leaving the world quietly waiting.

It was one of those days, or nights even, when I was ravenously consuming one sordid story after another in the same way one would binge-watch one gruesome episode of CSI after another -- horrified but filled with morbid curiosity.

I'd had enough of reading about true tales of human misguidedness and I wanted, no needed, some fiction. I was not going to be dépaysé from my current obsession though. Browsing through the vast number of titles featured on the Juggernaut app, it seemed like 'How to steal a Ghost @ Manipal' wasn't straying away from my preference...at all. So on I read - now to the sounds of a sleeping neighborhood and a raging thunderstorm cracking up the night sky.

So now you know that with all that reading earlier, I'd worked myself up to a frenzy where I was open to any story that would give me the necessary fix of being scared witless. Enter: 'How to Steal a Ghost @ Manipal' by Shweta Taneja.


THE BOOK.

In How to Steal a Ghost @ Manipal, Shweta Taneja immerses you in the story of Twinkle Kashyap who has joined Manipal University to be with her childhood love, Rohit Dandi, who wants nothing more than to be a famous paranormal investigator or, as we all like to bust out the catchy theme song of, a ghostbuster. Good with gadget tinkering, she gets the apparently common Indian petname of 'Tinker'. Fearing that she was going to lose Rohit's attention, Twinkle then enters into an unbidden internship with a famous parapsychologist Professor "Dada" Das and gets involved in a world of paranormal activity that she didn't think was possible.

Let me start by prefacing that the story of H2SG@M is good. Really good. It's been just 30 minutes since I finished reading the book, so what you're reading about this right now is as fresh as it can get. But half an hour is long enough time for me to tell you that if you let the story sink in, you'll realize that the best part about this book is how well the characters have been created and evolved.

Each and every character, from the main character Twinkle, through whose eyes we get to learn the story unfold, the cantankerous and secretive Dada, the typical self-involved love interest Rohit, to the dramatic and rich Lydia who forms the third vertex in the love triangle. Though these characters feature prominently in the pie chart of airtime (or is it word-time?), Shweta Taneja ensures that the reader feels responsible for every single character, even minor ones like the roommate Anju or Saras who...well, I think you should read the book for that.

If it was just coming up with interesting personalities to add in to the witchy cauldron of this story then the appeal would have ended right there. But, Shweta Taneja manages to connect these characters together into relationships that are constantly in flux as they go through each ghostly event after another. Whether it's possession or spiritual objects or coming up with devices to track down otherworldly causes, Shweta Taneja forces each of them to change as the fictional time passes by, or at least until a few hauntings have terrorized them. It's just a few ghosts after all. Nothing serious really. (yeah, right)
I would have rated H2SG@M at 2.5 if not for the story being, once more, really good.

I love the way Twinkle's feelings for the people she comes across keep changing based on the apparent mood of a teenager. Which also makes for a brilliant backdrop of watching her grow as she forms tenuous relationships and justifies her behavior at every turn. It is uncannily true-to-life in that way. I especially enjoyed how Shweta Taneja played the mercurial relationship of professor-intern between the ever-mysterious but learned Dada and the easily malleable but strong-willed Twinkle.

HMMM.
I do have to say that you need to give this book at least fifty pages to really get into it.

Why?

It's the narration style.

Let me explain.

The story is told from Twinkle's first person point of view. However, she is also narrating other stories within her story but that too from a first-person perspective but it reads like it's a third-person narrator's perspective. Confused? Well, that's the thing. In the first hundred pages, it felt like playing ping-pong with my brain trying to figure out which point-of-view the narrative was being told from and the significance it played.
Shweta Taneja manages to connect these characters together into relationships that are constantly in flux as they go through each ghostly event after another.
There were times it felt like the writer didn't read the previous scene or chapter before starting out on the fresh one and so it's missing the same tone...like it's missing a stitch and the tone doesn't reset again. 

After some time, either you get the hang of it or the writer does, but you somehow manage to discount it and keep reading because, again, the story is really good.

This inception-style of narration may have been meant to be dramatic or overly creative, but honestly, I wish Shweta Taneja had found a different creative device to use on this story.

Another thing that niggled at me were the purported accents that some of the characters were brandishing. It was easy to figure out which ones the author was personally familiar with and which ones were forcefully scripted as a character's lingua franca to highlight certain traits. The times when the author seemed comfortable to portray that accent, the dialogues seemed to flow organically. Other times, not so much.

I would have rated H2SG@M at 2.5 if not for the story being, once more, really good.

Coming back to the story. If you're worried that you would be scared silly or that you wouldn't be scared at all, Shweta Taneja's How to Steal a Ghost @ Manipal manages to masterfully tread the fine line, making you find credence in all the paranormal beliefs around you.

Because, why not?

...o0o...

Ray out! Peace!

Image credit: goes to Juggernaut Books and Shweta Taneja


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