Bougainvillea House: Kalpana Swaminathan

Clarice Aranxa is old and terminally ill with the motor neuron disease. She lives with her loyal servant Pauline in the Bougainvillea House at Baga beach in Goa, India. It seems that the days ahead will be uneventful, a slow passage to the biggest event of life – dying. But death turns out to be capricious, impatient, and shows up much before its expected time. And when it does arrive, it is not for the frail Clarice, but for someone else entirely. Kalpana Swaminathan’s 'Bougainvillea House' holds a highly intriguing psychological mystery, one which threatens the existence of all those who are associated with it.  

Clarice is a prim and proper lady, proud of her illustrious Portuguese lineage. She has imbibed all the good virtues in her daughters, made them into proper, well bred ladies themselves. But virtuousness does not necessarily bring along happiness, as Marion her younger daughter finds out. The beautiful, rich and attractive Marion is still unmarried at thirty seven and despite her virtuousness bad luck has always shadowed her everywhere. Her fiancé had committed suicide in front of a speeding train a month before their marriage and now when she had just begun enjoying the company of the young doctor treating her mother, the doctor has chosen to end his life at the bottom of a well. Marion, with her bad luck, Clarice with her righteousness, and Pauline with her fierce devotion are stranded at the Bougainvillea house dreading the next curveball that fate is about to throw at them.

'Bougainvillea House' is a deliciously dark fiction. The characters are beautifully developed and are the real strength of the novel. Clarice Aranxa, the protagonist, is a complicated and multi layered personality. She is introduced as a frail, vulnerable woman, but as we spend more time with her, we begin to uncover the unsavory facets of her personality, which reveal that she is neither vulnerable nor frail. The other characters, Marion, Pauline, Dr. Khan, the neurologist who treats Clarice, are also fleshed out in detail and they appeal to us as their desires and fears become known to us. 

Another remarkable aspect of this novel is its intelligent structure. We are conveyed the events through Clarice’s tape recording in the beginning, and then we are shown pages from the neurologist’s diary and his medical reports, interspersed with the narrative from the points of view of other characters. It is not clear who Clarice is speaking to in the beginning, but when we do come to know we really begin to appreciate the beauty of this design. Swaminathan’s prose is lucid and creates stark visuals in our minds. The serenity of the Baga beach and the evil that lurks in it leave the pages and begin to envelop our minds. And just like Dr. Khan who embarks on the quest to discover the truth we are also infected with curiosity and dread for what we are about to find out. 

'Bougainvillea House' is a psychological mystery and I will highly recommend it for the beautiful prose that manifests through its intriguing characters and intelligently crafted plot.

This novel can be bought through Flipkart or from Amazon. 
Book source: Self 


Lady In Read said...

this book sounds fascinating.. thanks for sharing.. am following you now..

Nivedita Barve said...

Thanks Lady In Read! Welcome to my blog :)

Saleel Sahasrabuddhe said...

hi. interesting to know about such a wonderful crafting of a psychological thriller, that too from an indian writer. thanks for the review.. looking forward to many more..

Nivedita Barve said...

You are most welcome Saleel :)