The Vague Woman’s Handbook, by Devapriya Roy

I’m just going to get this out of the way — I LOVED this book.

Really. I did.

Ok, why am I so surprised, considering that my love for chick-lit and chick-flicks are no state secret? Well, I guess I wasn’t expecting to love it so much. It isn’t a literary masterpiece; the language doesn’t reduce me to a pulp of awe and wonder; the story-lines were also simple — so what? The characters just spoke to me. Their lives, struggles and triumphs resonated with me.

Mil and Abhi are a young, a very young, very much in love, newly married couple trying to make it work. Mil, has taken a zero semester in her final year MA, to work at the Indian Academy of Literatures while Abhi continues at University to finish his PhD in conflict studies. Trying to come to terms with cheques that don’t come on time and the fact that neither set of parents have given the union their blessings, the in-their-very-early-twenties couple do the best that they possibly can to build a life together, firmly believing in the cheesy-but-oh-so-beautiful line from an Eagles song, “When we’re hungry, love will keep us alive.” Then of course there’s Mil’s boss, Indira Sen, a widow in her fifties who’s trying to keep her head above water while drowning in a pool of credit card debts and it certainly doesn’t help matters much that she lives with her shrew of a mother, along with a motley crew of others, namely her soft-spoken mother-in-law, an uncle who’s retired from the army and a daughter who’s studying fashion designing and getting sparkly stuff all over her crisp, white bed-sheets.

The story, set in Delhi, took me back to my days (or rather, half-decade) in JNU. The wonderful, tree-lined familiar roads of what I fondly called the cultural quarter of the capital; Connaught Place and Dilli Haat; the warmth of hostel friends and yes, the supremely naive yet extremely zealous, bordering on rabid, belief that love would truly conquer all. Fortunately, in this book, it actually does. As for my real life experiences…well, this post isn’t about that.

And in the now grown-up version of me, I also understood Indira’s trails and tribulations, and even empathised with them. It was like looking at the life of a favourite aunt and wanting everything to sort itself out so that happiness could wrap itself around her like a lovely, handloom sari. Once again…everything does sort itself out –erm, too neatly, if you ask me.

Yes, it’s a book about happy endings, way too simplistically achieved, but we need stories with happy endings, don’t you think? And not just the ones where princesses can fit their dainty feet into incredibly sturdy glass slippers.

One huge, BIG grouse though…the title. Why ‘handbook’? And ‘vague’? No, neither Mil nor Indira could be called vague. They are strugglers trying to sort out their messes, but they’re neither ditzy nor vague.

Like I said before, this isn’t a remarkable work of literature. It’s a lovely piece of chick-lit. And I guess it was something I needed to read.

Those warm fuzzy feelings I felt…sigh…this book was like drinking a warm serving of nostalgia from a favourite coffee cup. A wonderful instance of right book at the right time …

Thank you Devapriya, you made me remember the good things about Delhi and my life there…memories that I’d almost forgotten.

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “The Vague Woman’s Handbook, by Devapriya Roy

  1. Such a delightful book which I had the pleasure of reading several months ago. I fetl compelled to re-read it several times; so much of it rang so true.
    I can’t quite call it either chick- or hen- lit. It celebrates friendship, solidarity, and the angst of youngsters who follow their hearts and yet need their parents’ approval and unconditional support. I’m privileged to call the author my friend:)

    • I just loved the friendship between Mil and Indira — solid and dependable. And I think, no matter what age we get, we’ll always need our parent’s approval — I know I do…

      I look forward to meeting Devapriya and hope that one day soon, I will 🙂

  2. Sue

    Same pinch! I have a review of the book in my drafts too and really must publish it now.

    And I agree with you, the characters feel familiar, like you know them from somewhere.

  3. oh I read this sometime back and loved the book 🙂

  4. Dear wonderful people, thank you 🙂
    You don’t know how often I’m going to come back to this review (as I do with Dipali’s, and many times over) on blue days when I don’t feel like getting out of bed in the morning! Thankyou thankyou – and some more.

  5. next on the lib reading list! and if i like it as much as you did, then a permanent space on the bookshelf! 😀

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