NWR Issue r31

George Carr Reviews Small Days and Nights by Tishani Doshi (Bloomsbury)


George Carr reviews the novel Small Days and Nights by Tishani Doshi (published by Bloomsbury on 18 April). Researched, scripted and read by George Carr, Recorded and edited by Dante Lloyd. Produced by George Carr, Senior Producer: New Welsh Review. New Welsh Review's Multimedia programme is sponsored by Aberystwyth University.


Tishani Doshi weaves a complex tapestry of her protagonist’s mind onto the pages of her novel Small Days and Nights. Her experience as an award-winning poet influences the writing style, bringing brutal and beautiful introspections to the anecdotal storytelling. We follow the singular narrative voice of Grace, Grazia to her Italian father, whose life we encounter at the death of her mother, as well as the revelation that she has a sister affected by Downs Syndrome, Lucia, whom had been hidden from her until now. The novel follows a scattered chronology; melting from scenes with her sister to anecdotes of Grace’s life as she searches her memory for remnants of her mother. Grace also seeks to uncover secrets about her mother’s mysterious life from those who appear to have known her better than her own daughter.

Doshi’s narrator subverts the societal expectations of a woman’s life, making for an engaging and refreshingly original perspective. Grace leaves her life in America (including her husband and her friends), moving to India to say farewell to her mother, and meet the sister she knows so little about. The novel moves fluidly from location to location: visiting her father in Venice or remembering her adolescence in America, carrying with it the unwillingness to settle that Grace embodies. There is an ongoing concern with searching in the novel: searching for answers and for pleasures; Grace seems lost in her own life and unconsciously begins to mirror her mothers’. Grace was unsatisfied with the life she led in an America, exhausted of the fresh joy it once had and feeling trapped in a mould she had no wish to fill. She tells of how her husband, Blake, had nagged her to have a baby, and the looming expectation to bear children haunts her throughout the novel, with many of the characters in her life presupposing motherhood as Grace’s purpose. She says of her friend in America: ‘Misrak had found Jake, a boy from the Midwest, to marry. He contained her fire, softened it, gave her three kids and a white picket fence.’ This preordained lifestyle feels unsuited to Doshi’s narrator, whose memories take the narrative back and forth in both location and time. Instead she lands far from the world, on the outskirts of a village in India, and takes on the full-time care of her sister. Shouldering the guilt her mother had carried through her life, Grace learns how Lucy was cared for from afar. *

The motivation and direction of Doshi’s protagonist - and even the structure of the narrative - can have some light shed upon it when one understands the components of grief. In the words of psychiatrist Colin Murray Parkes in his work Bereavement: Studies of Grief in Adult Life, reaction to bereavement can consist of ‘The urge to look back, cry, and search for what is lost, and the conflicting urge to look forward, explore the world that now emerges, and discover what can be carried forward from the past.’ The eclectic chronology of Doshi’s novel looks back on all Grace has lost: her mother and her childhood, the husband she separated from and the pleasures he brought her. Each detail of Doshi’s novel serves as a subtle reminder of the grief her protagonist is unconsciously suffering. Her poetic reflections often compare life with decay, an existentialist attitude that goes hand-in-hand with grief, even as she recollects the pleasures of her life to ‘carry forward from the past’:

There are moments, even in the most intimate of relationships, when you’re making love with someone and you feel nothing. It happened with Blake three years into our marriage. We were never an overly amorous couple, but in the early days we groped and had sex on stairways and I believed in the unity of our bodies. Relationships tarnish, though, and for some, the erosions make them want to return to the body they’ve just hated, to claim it into being theirs again. I was never one for erosions. Once I began to see the dried skin around the elbows and the small hairs sprouting from earlobes, once I began to hold the body’s smell – its own particular reek of dying – the day after day became untenable. With Vik, it had been golden. A giving over. I put my mouth to his and drank.

The intense and beautiful monologues of Small Days and Nights are a magnetic experience for the eyes and the mind. Though the approach to dialogue between characters can seem somewhat unnatural (caused by the dilution of the anecdotal narration – brilliantly summarising conversations to only the most thoughtful and impactful lines), it’s a stylistic choice that ultimately enhances the storytelling. These short interactions enhance the detached and reflective tone of the narrative, as well as ensuring the story never goes stale. Doshi’s narrative filters into a carefully structured plot that never feels starved of action.

George Carr was Publishing (Multimedia) Officer at New Welsh Review this spring.


previous multi-media: Memories: A Poetry Showcase
next multi-media: Animation trailer for On Slate by Peter Goulding


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