From the book cover: 'It's time to stop fighting, and go home'
Those were the words that persuaded Aruna to walk out of her East London flat in the middle of breakfast, carrying nothing more substantial than a handbag. Leaving behind her marriage to Patrick, she boards a plane to Singapore, running back home to the city she had run away from in the first place. There she finds her childhood friend and former lover, Jazz, troubled by the pleas of the dying father he refuses to forgive.
After years spent fleeing the ghosts of her past- the life that she and Jazz had together, the terrible revelation that tore their relationship apart, and the troubling diagnosis she would rather forget- Aruna is about to discover that running away is easy. It is coming home- making peace with herself, Jazz and those they have loved- that is hard.
Set against the backdrop of London, Singapore and Malaysia, Half Life is an extraordinary, brutal yet also lyrical novel of love and conflict, friendship and sacrifice.
My thoughts: I remember reading Bitter Sweets by the author many years back and liking it. Though much of the story has escaped me today, it was a good read at the time. So when I saw this book at my favorite bookstore, it captivated my interest from the blurb alone. It seemed just my kind of book.
The book alternates between the past and the present, narrated from views of three characters- Aruna Ahmed Jones, her ex lover Ejaz 'Jazz' Ahsan and his father Hari Hassan. All their lives are intertwined and the actions of some have consequences that echoes back many years later.
All the characters were well etched. I particularly liked Aruna's character. Confused and a rebel, she protests vehemently against her unfair circumstances. What I also loved was that none of the characters were stereotypes. They all had flaws, regrets and a need for redemption and closure. Aruna is diagnosed with bipolar which comes to surfaces on the death of her father. She has mood fluctuations, is on and off medication and how she deals with it is written very well. I could really relate to her character, as dark as it may seem.
Jazz is a popular commercial fiction writer who writes novels with couples who have adventures and their happily ever afters. He tries to write down what he couldn't in real life. Which is Aruna leaving him without a clue and disappearing from his life for two years only to surface back again. Their relationship, again is something that you can relate to.
Hassan is a character that I felt sympathy for. Be it his helplessness in being tied down to a bed at the end of his ears, or the love and longing he felt for a woman that he could never have. He is a popular poet and writer of his times; his story is set against the backdrop of the partition and the politics that prevailed at the time.
However, the character that I felt most sorry for was Dr. Patrick Jones, Aruna's husband. Though he does not have much space in the book, his devotion and love for Aruna shines in all the little things that he does for her. His frustration at having to deal with her weird mood swings, and how hard he tries to give her what she wants was all commendable. There were times when I wanted to shake some sense into Aruna; her attitude was tiring at times. Though we know why she acts the way she does, watching her husband suffer for her misdemeanors was something that made me squirm.
There are no major plot twists. The one that came towards the middle was something that I guessed when I was a little while into the book. That can be labelled as the turning point of the story and we know why Aruna takes off to London without a trace. The backdrops of London, Singapore and Malaysia served as an exotic background for the story and the author has done a good job in providing you with a feel of the respective places. I have also not read much books which deals with mental disorders such as this one and it is evident that the topic has been well researched from its tone. So, yes, for me the book wins a point for that alone.
Overall, it was a good read. The climax at the end in revealing the big mystery was a tad disappointing. It would have helped if we were given more of a glance into the past to know what really happened. All the characters however, get their closure and I was happy with the way things turned out for all of them. At 250 odd pages, the book is a short read and I finished it in over a day. A light read with interesting characters that dwells into their psyche, it is well worth a read and your time.