By Lakshmi Menon
Sarvat Hasin’s This Wide Night has been described as Little Women meets The Virgin Suicides. While this is not entirely wrong and there are some clear parallels between the works, the description belies the levels of meaning the author has packed into this work, and the comparisons fall short.
The majority of the story is told through the eyes of Jimmy, who, like Laurie in Little Women, is fascinated by the women who live in the house across the street from him. As he learns more about them, to live among them and love them, so do the readers. We grow to share his fascination with the Malik sisters – the beautiful Maria, firebrand tomboy Ayesha, shy Bina and the petulant Leila, and their mother Mehrunnisa who is as lovely as she is mysterious. In the absence of the patriarch of the household, Captain Malik, these women form parts of a whole that does not leave any room for outsiders. Even as Jimmy feels welcomed into their world he is aware that he will never be completely privy to it. They share “an invisible net of sisterhood” that he cannot penetrate, try as he may.
Through the course of the novel, we watch Jimmy try to find a balance for the failings of his own life. A loner in many respects, it is in this intimate shared space that he is invited into that he finds solace, even as he is aware that their world isn’t exactly considered “ordinary”.
“No one lived as these girls did, no other mother would have allowed these freedoms. But even this freedom was not boundless. There were things you could live in the world without and things you could not. This was not a city for hiding sins or secrets.”
The isolation of the Malik girls from society in general becomes a real, physical thing in the latter part of the book, when circumstances force them to move to an island off Karachi, and Jimmy is aware of what it entails to share a roof with the women.