“Confessing is a weakness. Living with secrets and bearing the punishment of silence is strength.” “Prisoners of Secrets” by Lata Gwalani begins with this opening line, and in it lies the premise of this unusual love story. At 170 pages, this book may seem like a quick read, but it is not. And that is because the storytelling is vivid, the characters are well-sketched, and the attention to detail is immaculate. So, you must spend some time with it to fully savour what it has to offer.
Once you get past the attractive cover and intriguing title of the book, and you plunge into the story, the first thing that grabs your attention is the languid flow of the prose. Nothing seems too laboured in this sprawling narrative. To add to that, Gibran, Fitzgerald, Rumi, Atwood, Longfellow and their likes, find a place in the story, as the author sprinkles their quotes into the narrative at key moments. Her love for literature is clearly evident.
However, it was the stellar use of visual imagery that stood out for me, and through it the author weaves several beautiful moments in the story which is bound to linger in your mind. So, whether it is Parthasarathy Lane in Pollachi, the crowded fishing village of Vizhinjam or the jackfruit tree under which two lovers meet, the author expertly transports you to these places with vivid descriptions of colour, texture, smell, sight and touch. All of it becomes magically tangible!
As I moved further into the story, around the half-way mark something unexpected happened—a change in perspective from 3rd person to 1st person. It made the storytelling even more immersive than it was because the shift comes at a crucial juncture in the story. The surprise value is also considerably enhanced by the author’s choice of character for this shift in perspective. This was quite clever.
But techniques can only work if the story itself is compelling. And “Prisoners of Secrets” delivers with a well thought out storyline. It is the story of three very different people—Meera, Manuel and Shankar who are guarding secrets that can destroy their lives and their relationships. Through several impactful moments, the author endeavours to capture the complexities of the human mind and its motivations. She does that by expertly crafting the character arc of its lead characters and you are invested in their journeys, even if you don’t agree with them.
The only criticism I could think of was an overdose of quotes which at places felt unnecessary because the narrative itself was doing a fine job of driving the story forward. And perhaps certain instances where I felt that the author could have left things to the reader’s imagination. But different readers will perceive these aspects differently. Also, in a sprawling narrative, as this one, a few excesses are bound to happen.
Under the contemporary fiction genre books like the “Prisoners of Secrets” are rare. It is also difficult to cut through the clutter and find these books. If it weren’t for reading groups like this one and for like-minded friends, I wouldn’t have discovered this book. I will recommend it to anyone who loves literature, is an eternal romantic and wants to read a story which portrays human frailties and motivations vividly. It deserves to be read.
“Prisoners of Secrets” is available on Amazon (link below) in Paperback and Kindle formats: