THOMAS Hardy’s Return of the Native is happy-sad-happy-neutral-happy. James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist is first happy, then extremely sad, then a bit happy, then neutral. And Moby Dick has a similar plot, emotion-wise, to a 1990s pulp crime novel: The Australian

An English professor has identified the six basic plots of our literary canon. But unlike other English professors who have claimed similar feats, he has done so through quantitative analysis of more than 40,000 novels.

Matthew Jockers, from Stanford University, uses computer programming to gain insights into literature. His program, Syuzhet, looks for the emotional content of texts, and records how it changes over time. What he found was that there appeared to be only a few natural plot archetypes.

Advertisements

There are some rough patches in Meena Kandasamy’s novel The Gypsy Goddess (Atlantic Books, 2014, pp 283) but the author’s spontaneity, coupled with a radiant wit makes this a memorable novel. Beyond the hard-hitting storyline, the variety of experiments with form would keep one engaged, marking out this book as an important debut of the year, says Rajat Chaudhuri.  

Gypsy GoddessThe Wikipedia entry on the Kilvenmani massacre is a mere 800 words long while the Economic and Political Weekly article that pops up in a JSTOR search, at two and half pages, offers a slightly better word count. A couple of documentaries on YouTube, a few stray newspaper reports from the past, is about all that Google manages to throw up about this barbaric killing of poor unarmed Dalit villagers of Kilvenmani in Tamil Nadu, southern India that happened on Christmas day, 1968. Now that someone has written a fictionalised account in English about this half forgotten incident, buried deep in the annals of peoples’ struggles, was reason enough to get hold of a copy of The Gypsy Goddess. Hardbound, with a brilliant crimson cover with gold lettering and wrapped up in a beautifully designed dust jacket, it appeared in my mailbox exuding vintage chic.

The story is about the cold-blooded massacre of forty two people of Kilvenmani village by caste Hindu landlords and their goons just as Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5 was about the mindless bombing of Dresden by the allied forces. And obviously it is an immensely difficult story to tell because wanton killing doesn’t lend itself well to traditional forms of storytelling.