The Shadow of Darkness by Priyanka Baranwal is a novel bordering on part crime, part thriller, and part childhood trauma. The story follows the protagonist, Sejal, the second victim of a crime committed by some uncouth youths towards her mother, when she was just a kid of 5 years, and the effects it had on her, and still has, even 13 years later.
Sejal is an 18-year-old college-going girl. Everything about her is normal, except for the fact that she has had a traumatized past, a distinct memory of a single night has taken away her right to a peaceful life. An attack that happened years ago on her mother in their own home has rendered Sejal to the mercy of recurring nightmares, where she sees herself being chased by an unknown man, unable to help her mother who is somewhere out there, shouting for her. While her family seems to have moved on after 13 years, and have settled for a peaceful life, Sejal is still struggling to find her closure. In this, she is helped by her childhood bestie Diya, who advises her to open up to her parents and ask for help. She does it, but not by herself, but when her parents themselves sit her down and question. While sharing makes it a little easier for her to live with her nightmares, it isn’t completely gone. Enter Kartik, Diya’s cousin from Australia and sparks fly in the first meeting itself.
With all her life’s problems and a newfound feeling of attraction, how would Sejal cope up? Will she be able to get over her past and move into a bright future? Or will she be dragged into hell again by the shadow following her?
Narrated in the third person, the writing needs polishing, is overly simple, conversational, and colloquial, and with the use of heavy vocab at places, it makes for a mismatch. Also, the language didn’t help, it seemed more like a translation of Hindi dialogues into English. There are instances where Hindi words have been used, yet for calling out relatives, English titles of aunt and uncle are mentioned which doesn’t go along well. There were a discontinuity and haste in storytelling, scenes were switched abruptly and days were jumped all of a sudden. For example, in the last few pages when the story leaps a few years into the future, it is not clear whether it is 3 years or 13 years. An important thing that was missed out was the proper description of the incident on which the complete plot is based. It was ignorance on the part of the author to not consider giving a detailed picture of the most important part of the story when there are instances that are actually not required at all. For example, the storyline of Muthu, not required, yet given enough time or maybe when Krishna makes that pin gun, which I thought would be used later somehow and was not. In 370+ pages read, this is quite unacceptable and leaves the reader with a sense of incompleteness, and which seriously put me off. There were major grammatical and editing lapses, which is a debut novel that must be kept in check, for the first impression is the last…
Dealing with the very sensitive topic of crimes against women, the story could have been explored more in those terms as well, along with overcoming the trauma by the victims, which is the main focus. I understand that every author has the right to choose whatever as to their main story, but along with it, it is also important to run parallel stories that are complementing and not just there for a mere filling up of pages.
But as they say, every cloud has a silver lining, and here it was the characterization, although not for all the characters. Sejal’s character is very intricately drawn, the right mix of details is given and some are left to the imagination. In fact, Maya, her mother also is not lagging behind in this. This in turn leads the reader to build their images right from the very beginning. But the others are not so lucky to have such luxuries, and yet they are not made up poorly. Another thing that I’d like to mention is the irony of the title, shadow, and darkness. However the faults may be, it is a very well thought of book title, an apt one considering what the story is about.
Trauma is difficult to get over, especially when it is received in childhood when the heart is so very delicate and the soul yet not tarnished. Over time, people acknowledge and deal with it, if not completely forget it. And it is then that their identity is broken into two – one for the world and the other for themselves. And it is then that the person is shadowed forever, by that trauma which refuses to leave, because of the inability of the victim to move on or because it has had an effect so deep that all the attempts to move on becomes futile. Having said that, it is also possible to overcome the trauma completely, but still have scars to remind of that fateful incident.
Read if you into thrillers and women-oriented/empowerment plots.