The first thought that entered my brain, as I plunged headlong into The Wednesday Soul by Sorabh Pant, was that this was clearly a tribute to Douglas Adams. Just like that incomparable comic writer, Pant has taken a mighty leap off the edge of the Plausibility Cliff, and has swum, with some success, in the Sea of Improbability. He has, like Adams, created characters with varied shades of quirk in them and has also, like Adams again, shown us that the idea of death (or destruction) has great comic potential.
Unlike the late great Adams, however, Pant is still mastering the art of writing. I’ve watched his stand-up routine a couple of times and I’ve always enjoyed it. Pant has great energy and a wonderful sense of comic timing when he’s on the stage and he brings this to his book as well. However, a stand-up act does not last more than an hour, so the joke-a-second formula works perfectly well in that format. In a book, however, it can get exhausting. There seem to be at least four punchlines in every paragraph and unfortunately, it seems like that is all there is to it.
Another major problem I had with the book was that too many things seemed to be happening together. The action shifts constantly between two different sets of characters and only in the end, is there some semblance of cohesion. There are LOTS of characters and some of them are genuinely funny, but the problem with having lots of characters – all of whom have something important to contribute to the story – is that sometimes the author simply doesn’t have time to build enough back-story for them, or give them enough depth to make us care. One instance is that of the mysterious Radha N. Recliws, who gives us the introduction to the story, then disappears for most of the book except to give us bits of information at the beginning of every chapter. He only reappears right at the end. Now, this Recliws is an intriguing character – you’ll know when you read the book – but his reappearance is abrupt, and consequently, seems very tacked on. Remember how bewildered you were when Gandalf the Grey suddenly reappears as Gandalf the White in The Two Towers? At least in that instance Tolkein had built up the story enough to make us care that Gandalf had returned to the narrative. In The Wednesday Soul, there’s no such build-up. It’s just action, action, action.
But you probably want to know what the plot is, so here it is in a few words: Nyra Dubey, is an vigilante who is suddenly killed by a bus. She’s furious because she had finally managed to get herself a boyfriend, and now all she can think of is how she can get back to him. Unfortunately, the afterlife is pretty much like real life, in that whatever you want to do is not as important as what the powers-that-be want you to do. Nyra is constantly thwarted by red tapism. She also finds out that sinister plans are afoot, which may throw the whole balance or life/after-life off-kilter.
So what is it about the book that works? As I said at the beginning, The Wednesday Soul shows great imagination. Pant has created his own version of the afterlife with some truly brilliant concepts like the categorization of souls. He’s also introduced celebrated people – fictitious and non-fictitious, including Marie Curie, Agatha Christie and Guru Dutt – as minor characters.
Reading this book proved more difficult than I had expected, and in all fairness, I must admit that most of the time, it wasn’t Pant’s fault. What really lets the book down is the shoddy editing: there are quite a few spelling errors, and the breaks traditionally used to separate scenes are often missing. Since the book has a fairly complicated plot, such errors on the part of the editors is unforgivable.
The book seems to have been generally well-received and there’s already talk of a sequel. I would congratulate Pant on the success of his first novel, but I would also warn him to take a little more time with his next one. Perhaps that will make it easier to read, and also funnier.