There is both beauty and novelty in finding magic, but one hears less about the beauty and novelty of the everyday. Stuti Agarwal’s The Very Glum Life of Tootoolu Toop is a love letter to the everyday, ‘glum’ life that we all live. Told through the perspective of a ten-year-old witch of the ‘Oonoodiwaga’ tribe from the Darjeeling mountains, the novel is a sophisticated worldbuilding of a localized hybrid of the magical and the non-magical which will be a delightful experience for readers of all ages.
The reader is quickly pulled into Tootoolu’s world with Agarwal’s simple inviting prose joining hands with Karuna Subbiah’s matching illustrations. Tootoolu begins her story by means of an open letter to any reader who might come across it. Presented in a handwriting-esque style, the letter details Tootoolu’s wish to live a non-magical or ‘glum’ life as the young witch finds this non-magical world of the everyday that she has just read in ‘glum’ books to be a world full of mundane adventures (which doesn’t really sound like an oxymoron to her magical ears). With Tootoolu’s witty voice, the reader is drawn into appreciating the almost child-like fascination with which Tootoolu yearns to live an ‘ordinary’ life because that is what is most exciting to her. The novel is full of journal-style lists and to-dos which constantly help the reader experience details of the characters’ lives that are otherwise not explicitly presented in the narrative. There is much endearing humour in Tootoolu’s list of ‘How to Become a Glum’ which comes complete with ‘Annexure: Rules to follow in the Glum World’. The illustrations form an important part of the narrative and plot with commentary and asides by Tootoolu often annotated in the main text itself, as illustrations that surprisingly puncture the narrative with a breath of fresh air. There is often much happening on any page the reader picks up, with spiders running across the words or sound effects provided through change in font style and size or even placement of certain words falling out of pages. Sometimes the black and white colour scheme of a page is inverted to show that it is night and often characters in adventurous scenarios are illustrated into the page allowing the reader to peep into the episode like a giant towering over and touring through Agarwal’s fantasyscape.