Author: Vatsal Surti
Genre: Fiction, contemporary, romance
Where I got the book: I received a free e-copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
My rating: ★★☆☆☆
Summary: She is an aspiring model, he is a troubled writer. For their first encounter, she almost runs him over with her car. For their second encounter, they happen to meet again at a restaurant the following night and this time they make contact. Eventually a relationship develops and together they struggle to tackle loneliness, love, hopes, and dreams.
“Sometimes he couldn’t guess anything from her eyes. They seemed to have no expression in them. Absent of all movements, there was a vacant space inside her, wider than the sky and faster than the wind.”
– 20, Vatsal Surti
Vatsal Surti is undoubtedly a very talented young writer. The language in this book is beautiful and lyrical and sometimes reads like prose poetry, it has many quotable passages, and the writing flows effortlessly. It’s easy to just sit back and let yourself be carried away by some of the lovely and atmospheric descriptions that can be found in this debut novel.
That said, beautiful writing alone doesn’t make a book great, and I’m afraid it was hard for me to get anything else out of this read besides an appreciation for the language. “20” just lacked substance for me. While the writing and the dialogue may seem profound and full of emotion at first, the story itself doesn’t have any depth to it. In a way the above quote describes my feelings about this book. The more I kept reading, the emptier the story and the characters became. The relationship between the two main characters is hard to fully grasp; sometimes they’re needy and dependent in their ways and sometimes there’s a sudden distance between them, and I understand that this stumbling approach to intimacy is meant to be fragile and careful and slow, but despite this attempt at establishing something more they become repetitive and frankly annoying to read about. The two of them kind of just float there in the midst of a story that is also a bit vague and lacking in direction, and ultimately I found myself not really caring about them or what happened to them at all. Most of the dialogue reads much too profound and unnatural at times, and when specific, even drastic, turning points were introduced to the story I still felt like I was just reading the same thing over and over. I also expected to be able to relate to this “early 20s”-feeling, that it would maybe bring some familiarity regarding the search for yourself and your identity and where you’re headed in life, but these emotions fail to properly come across in the text.
It is mentioned in the book’s summary that fans of Haruki Murakami will enjoy this – and I am a huge fan of his work so of course a comparison like that was bound to catch my attention and I can’t help commenting on it. I can sort of see where this is coming from. I think the feeling of rootlessness and “strangeness” and also to some extent the detached, observant way of narrating are a bit reminiscent of Murakami, but this is about as far as the similarities go in my opinion.
This is a beautiful novel when it comes to the writing alone, but sadly, the lack of depth and substance in both story and characters is consistent throughout the book. It’s a good effort for a debut novel and I can appreciate that, but overall this just didn’t do it for me.