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Book review: <i>Em And The Big Hoom</i> by Jerry Pinto

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the cover of the book

Not your average love story.

The story

In Bombay, amongst the seething masses, lives the family of Em and the Big Hoom. This is Imelda and Augustine: lovers, partners, husband and wife, mother and father of the narrator and his sister, Susan. They live in a one bedroom flat with a kitchen, a balcony, and a living area. Augustine goes to work, Susan and the narrator go to school, college, the workforce. But there's something different about their family, something ever-present in their lives. Imelda, known to her family as Em, is manic depressive. This is a journey she takes alone, through the mania and the depressive days, but it is also a journey taken by her family.

The reader is given a glimpse of the world of Em and the Big Hoom by the narrator, who is trying to make sense of his childhood where the concepts of home, family, and motherhood don't mean what they do to everybody else.

The style

While I'm usually enthusiastic about books I like, excuse me a moment while I actually gush about how stunning this one is. Em And The Big Hoom is perfect, and if you take into account the fact that it's Pinto's first novel, it's even more impressive. It's not an easy read, though. It's fraught with emotion, the emotion of a child growing up around an unstable parent and her suicide attempts, mania, and despair. I found it to be very emotionally draining as a reading experience, and some days when I thought about picking it up I would deliberately leave it and go on to something lighter. So even though it isn't very long, it took me a while to get through.

The narrative is interspersed with fragments from Em's diaries and letters, and select verbal narratives from Em and the Big Hoom, so the reader can glean a little more insight into the early family dynamic. The voices of all the main characters (being the narrator, Em, and the Big Hoom) are all very impressive. Pinto's ability to compassionately and honestly see things from Em's point of view, while retaining the perpetual betrayal of a child who isn't like other children, is beautifully done. The letters from Em Pinto uses to glimpse into her personality are lovely and just sufficient to show us that we – and the narrator – can never fully know her as a person. Similarly, but in a completely different way, the Big Hoom is a manly force to be reckoned with. Combine these with the narrator's story, set with seething Bombay as a backdrop, and you have an absolutely superb first novel.

Who is this book for?

I would certainly recommend this story for anyone who's had first hand experience with a family member who's been affected by mental illness. The story's deep compassion touches any reader, but would be particularly poignant for a reader who understood on a first-hand basis. I mean, really, anyone could read this book because it's very good, but if I had to pick a group of people to recommend it to that's who I'd choose.

In short

Title: Em And The Big Hoom
Author: Jerry Pinto
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 0143124765
Year published: 2014
Pages: 224
Genre(s): Contemporary literature
Review Type: