'Neon Noon' Book Review: Tanuj Solanki writes about the many tides of heartbreak
Neon Noon’s tokenisms are in its poetry. And it should almost be an obligation that the literary culture we have come to purport have writers like Solanki.
Love, that four letter word that espouses unreason in ways that are now definitive of the way human beings are emotively drawn. And in Tanuj Solanki’s Neon Noon, it finds its latest soloist trying to puncture his way into the many fiefdoms of this misery-lending tyranny that has left us bedraggled for centuries in literature and outside of it. For those familiar with national journals and the handful of online magazines that make up the lean and co-everything, literary scene in India, Solanki is a familiar name. His stories have appeared in a number of places, and his style and oeuvre are something one may anticipate, accurately to some extent, before taking to the book.
Neon Noon begins with an encounter between the protagonist T (perhaps Solanki in his self-confessed image) and a woman who proceeds to court him in some way or the other. Told from the perspective of the woman this is, you could say, a meta-reading of the text, or simply reading into the person we are soon about to hear from, a sort of stage-setting which is unique and telling, as we proceed. From thereon in, we move to the protagonist’s own first-person account of a loving relationship with a French woman. We travel in time, from when the two were together, to when the two have separated. In the last part of the book, which also has the only singular narrative, we move to Pattaya, where T goes in hope, or lack thereof.
Pattaya is where most of the action of the book takes place, as we shift from bar to bar in the style of Jean Paul Sartre, where in all its undecided, yet rounded glory, T tries to find solace in the idea of getting away, rather than actually doing so. Noon, a prostitute, happens to soften the aggressive edges of his pursuit with what is a void, riddled with complexities that T hasn’t paused to think about until then. The encounter, though, eventually leaves T broken again, yet liberated somehow from his past.
Neon Noon’s tokenisms are in its poetry. And it should almost be an obligation that the literary culture we have come to purport have writers like Solanki, writing from the recesses of poetic diction, with a sense for the metaphor, the world’s many ironies, and the anatomy of circumstance, that lie untouched, burdened by narration that appears only in singulars. Solanki’s witticisms aren’t without their air of worldly observation, posited in a way that untangles a new knot each time.
For example he writes about mirrors:
The absence of mirrors is a necessity to delete erotic possibilities from the workplace
Yes, the room had a writing desk below the mirror. It is, perhaps, a good place for a writing desk.
T’s girlfriend while talking to him says:
The way you think. Your thought process. You think so easily of death. Doesn’t it scare you? I don’t like thinking of my death. I like thinking of my life. My happiness.
And of Pattaya, Orhan, a man T meets, says:
Well, you know, in this city of pleasure, pain has suffered genocide
Such writing, rife with ironies it may or may not specify can only come from an author in touch with his poetic side. That Solanki uses the word ‘delete’ also points to a maturity that comes with writing in times when the lineage of a word could unknowingly decide the weight of a sentence and its cautionary possibilities. Poetry is as essential to Solanki’s book as is the absence of a straightforward method of narration. A protagonist, so complex, and staked by deference of one kind or the other, cannot survive through hundreds of pages without being rescued by pre-determined improvisation. All of Solanki’s chapters are written, as if with a peculiar sense of impending ejection, that at any point some randomness could creep into the mind of the protagonist, or the writer, which is all the more likely, in times of great grief.
While the writing is largely unquestionable, there are moments, though few, where Solanki overshoots the meters of his poetic feet:
Earlier, as we walked, this giant would sometimes hide behind a nearer mountain, with only the tiniest triangle of its summit showing like a bleached white monastery hiding a god.
I think I love her so much, as much as the Himalayas
The inferences, or what they might suggest here are neither apparent, nor necessary. Brevity is not Solanki’s thing but he makes up for it handsomely by levitating in just the right portions, and to the right amount, over subjects that come to define this novel. Within the book, Solanki also talks to the reader, and at a point you begin to wonder if this is a piece of fiction at all. Pattaya is probably chosen for its exotic machinery as compared to the dread of say something similar in Mumbai. This is therefore, also the point where most readers could be divided. The sex and provocative assemblages that follow can at times feel like a head-rush. Despite the setting, the strength of his prose, and the bare-teeth sexuality there is very little in terms of the exotic that Solanki provides in the last half of the book. And perhaps, that is the point of it all. That even in Pattaya, so removed from the handicap of familiarity or judgment a man could struggle to fit into the overture, to which the place itself is the licence.
It would have been interesting to hear more from the French girlfriend that T tries to move on from, or how their relationship collapsed. But then, literature also exists in the vacuums.
Neon Noon might be taken by some as an angst-ridden, 20-something's book that exists because of our real-world heartbreaks, and tends to exit at points where we begin our real-world inquests. There is however, enough depth to T’s character, his confused self-identifications, and his recognisable sense of lapping escape with denial that set it apart as a book of considerable literary value. That said this is a book for literary lovers who appreciate style, and the unreserved exploration of character, and who in its many manipulations find their own arrival. Mainstream readers might find that hard to bargain with. But every good book has to endure. Solanki ends a chapter by saying "I am (T) a compulsive archivist of myself". And for all that this novel promises him about the future, one would hope he remains so.