Book Review of “20: A Novella” by Vatsal Surti.
The unnamed protagonist in this expressive novella is only 20 years old, but she seems to have quite an old soul. When she meets a man her age and falls in love with him, it seems her life is finally beginning to change, despite her unending mood swings and a shaky relationship with her father, who has just contacted her after many years of estrangement.
To tell the truth, I almost gave up on this book several times, but I’m glad I didn’t. On the one hand, one of the biggest drawbacks was that there seem to be quite a few problems with the English. Thankfully, Surti’s publisher recently wrote to us reviewers to assure us that they’ve assigned a new (English language) editor to fix these problems. (In any case, I figured that either this is a less than successful translation, or Surti’s first language is certainly not English.)
Despite the language problems, Surti writes very poetically, using a “stream of consciousness” type of narrative, which feels both pensive and observant. I’ve often said that one of the problems with a poetic style of writing is that sometimes it can feel overly floral and repressive. Although Surti did overstep in some places in this book, for the most part Surti avoided this pitfall, and the poetry mostly enhanced rather than detracted from the text, so that was at least something.
Unfortunately, what Surti wasn’t able to escape from was an almost endless rehashing of the same feelings. I understand that Surti’s point here was to get us to understand the depths of emotion that this girl was going through. This included elation and expectations as well as despair and fears. It was almost as if Surti was giving us a portrait of a bi-polar girl, trying to find her place in the world without diagnosis or treatment. That Surti places her smack dab in the public eye, within the extremely stressful world of modeling and fashion, seems to aggravate her problems. However, each time Surti describes another aspect of the roller-coaster of her emotions we increasingly feel manic or depressed along with her. The latter was my main problem with this book. It isn’t that I don’t like sad passages in novels (as my readers know, I actually like a good cry), but I that can’t happen until after the author has successfully built protagonists that I can like and care deeply about. Sadly, Surti gave us characters that were more annoying than sympathetic.
Still, Surti shows no small amount of writing talent (despite the grammar and odd usage of the English language, which I’m sure they’ll fix soon). This made me think that this novella might have fared better as a short story. At that size, perhaps the angst and euphoria would have been less repetitious, allowing Surti to give us a better balance with the action to back up those feelings. All told, while this book didn’t enamor me, and I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it, I think Surti has potential for greatness someday (of course, with the help of a good editor). For all this, I think I’ll give it three out of five stars.
“20” by Vatsal Surti is available (via this affiliate link) from Better World Books. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.