Janice Pariat’s second book, The Nine Chambered Heart embarks on the journey of an unnamed woman, referred to as “you”, through nine individuals with whom she had shared moments of her life; lives, if you will. This woman does not tell her own story; yet, she comes to life in front of the reader, constantly being constructed and deconstructed by the ones whom she loved or was loved by. In this kaleidoscopic juxtaposition of fragments, we manage to get glimpses of the young woman’s life.
Picture Courtesy: Pritika Gupta
Although the title of this novella does not sound too scientific, Pariat’s meticulous approach towards studying the nature of identity balances it out. Just as we recall most of our past experiences in a certain light, which may or may not be close to the original one, the nine characters paint an almost abstract picture of this woman. These characters range from the woman’s art teacher in her school to a man her tourist self fell in love with for five days. Interestingly enough, these little memoirs full of vulnerabilities, distortions and even contradictions are also the only ways to map the mysterious young woman.
The Nine Chambered Heart grapples with significant questions about love, perceptions and people, often in the tiniest details sprinkled hither and thither. What is the nature of love? Is it easy, is it selfless? Is it possible to see a person beyond what is presented of them in front of you? At what point do they become a metaphor? One of the most striking features of this book is that the very moment we find someone attempting to eulogise the young woman, another person kicks in, obscuring the previous image, and with it, everything we have known about her so far. The constant blurring and illuminating seem to answer many such questions.
Through the nine narratives of love in the novel, the reader discovers love to be selfish, fearless, infuriating, selfless, foreign, embracing, fulfilling and taxing, all at the same time–and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Using eloquent techniques, Pariat explores how being in love affects the idea of a person. The fairly detailed accounts of the young woman coerce the readers to understand her at once, and completely alienates them from her in the next moment.
The uncanniness of these shifting identities and concepts of love is mirrored by the places mapped out through the young woman’s geographical journey. While the origami cranes play a vital role in her relationship with her art teacher, her vacation to “the city with stone bridges” leads to as brief, carefree and meaningful a relationship as the trip. Almost all these accounts carry with them the weight of loss, in one form or the other, as if to suggest that love ought to be accompanied by loss; there is no alternative. Perhaps the only way to love is to love selfishly, for these narrators seem to derive and base their own identities from what they construct of the young woman. All this unravelling, mapping and concealing make this novella gripping to its very core. As a reader, it becomes even confusing, this growing attachment to strings of letters on paper.
The only thing I can now be certain of is that, yes, it is easy to love, but there is nothing more difficult than it.
(The featured picture of the author has been taken from the author’s official page)