A rambling review of This Is Not Your Story by Savi Sharma
Savi Sharma’s This Is Not Your Story came highly recommended by a friend over email. A few weeks later, I discovered a signed copy on sale at Blossom’s.
The cover was a patchwork of good and bad. On one hand, it was plastered with high praises from various well-known publications — The Times of India, DNA and The Hindu, among others — but on the other, the design looked a little confused and the blurb had multiple typos.
They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I disagree. Most times, a cover is what tells me that a book is worth reading. Clean images in a logical colour scheme. An easy combination of typefaces. A well-written blurb. Not too many singing reviews.
And best of all, a worn-out book. A worn-out book is worn out for a reason: it gets read. (Obviously that doesn’t work with brand-new books, but keep it in mind if you’re ever at a library.)
But the line was growing at the check-out counter, so I hastily dumped it into my cart, without reading even a page, and decided I could toss it if it ended up being bad; it was cheap, anyway.
I rediscovered it at the bottom of my reading pile a month later, in between Gut by Giulia Enders and Mother of God by Paul Rosolie. I picked it up, if only for a break from all the non-fiction I’d been reading lately.
The prologue left me conflicted. The first chapter even more so. This did not change over the course of the afternoon in which I finished the book. Let me explain.
Her storylines and character arcs were beautifully crafted. Deep enough and real enough to believable, but charmingly fictitious in the manner of a Bollywood movie. They blended and shifted with a seamless harmony that ran through the pages, apparently disjointed, but lyrical together. There were times I wondered where Sharma was going with her words, when a storyline took off on a divergent direction, or paragraphs ran along in speech, but by the time I was finished, I could not imagine the story having taken any other path or having found any other destination.
I am a part of the strange, supposedly annoying, species that normal people call “the grammar police”. This basically means that every time I come across a lost comma, erroneous syntax or a misspelled word, I tend to die a little inside. Of course, I’ve become fairly desensitized to this in everyday life, seeing as I live in the land of “Kanglish” and would otherwise most definitely be a good six feet under.
In a book, however, you’d imagine you wouldn’t have to worry about such things. What else are copy and line editors for?
This Is Not Your Story had a judicious sprinkling of such wounding mistakes. It also managed somehow not to use “quotes” in the entire book, instead opting for ‘quotes’ throughout. Now, this wasn’t a grave problem for me, by any measure, but every alarm bell at an unnecessary ampersand took a little bit more away from the story; the voice in the back of my head screaming at me to take a red pen to the page refused to let me in.
Something else that crossed my mind, repeatedly, as I read was the “Show, Don’t Tell” rule my English teacher has so firmly ingrained in my head. This is a classroom a rule we mainly use when writing descriptive pieces, but it also applies when writing intense emotion. It basically means don’t say “It started to rain.” Instead, say “And the heavens opened and sheets of cold water cascaded from the sky.”
This, in my opinion, might have been this book’s biggest flaw: she doesn’t show.
And perhaps, in some cases, showing is better than telling, but definitely not all cases. Certainly, it seems odd that, over the course of fifty thousand words, I found few instances of detailed descriptions, and maybe too many dramatic one-line statements like “pierced my heart” or “pierced my soul”. Several passionately emotional passages were lost to me, because of the repetitiveness of these phrases, and it was these same phrases that sometimes made it seem the characters were overreacting to their situations.
The book didn’t even make me cry. (Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you that it doesn’t take much.) I cried for Beauty and the Beast, the last two Harry Potters, The Fault In Our Stars, the Hunger Games novels, the Divergent novels…and the list goes on. My point here is that, despite the seemingly lyrical poetry of Sharma’s words, they still felt hollow.
In the end, I think Sharma’s smooth-sailing plotlines were set adrift for the lack of something as simple as a copy-editor and a pocket-thesaurus.
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