Repertoire of Voices
Anandana Kapur
GOODNIGHT AND GOD BLESS by Anita Nair Penguin Books, 2009, 287 pp., 399
January 2009, volume 33, No XXXIII

In a literary career spanning over a decade, Goodnight and God Bless is Anita Nair’s first time as an essayist. According to Aldous Huxley, ‘…a collection of essays can cover almost as much ground, and cover it almost as thoroughly, as can a long novel. This is precisely what Nair accomplishes in her book. The themes of collection being quirkily summed in the book’s sub-title ‘On life, literature and a few other things with footnotes, quotes and other such literary diversions.’ The book is structured chapterwise and the author traverses space and time using memory as a trope in pieces of various lengths. There is no conventional address or salutation to the reader, instead it is the language that has an engaging tonal quality, akin to a conversation with a friend. What makes this approach noteworthy is that not only is it endearing even in the more literature-specific sections, but the flow of the conversation is seldom impeded. In fact, the book is peppered with literary references for readers to take note of, recollect and acknowledge.

These skillfully woven references that appear as footnotes through the text present the reader with a charming predicament: the choice of reading on, countered by the urge to explore and delve further in to the historical accounts and lives of the literary characters that Nair quotes with such languid ease. This minor distraction apart, Goodnight and God Bless promises to be an enjoyable read for those who know or want to know their literature coupled with a warm cup of tea.

For fans and avid readers of Nair there is ample scope for them to partake, the ‘Harry Angstrom-like eye’with which she, survey[s] the world, stake[s] the purview of [her] life.’ One of the most poetic reflections in the book is her characterization of memory as ‘. . . a remembrance chest of scents. Instead of photographs .. .’ Akin to women’s biographies and histories, a genre that she herself analyses in the book, she presents a reflective autobiography replete with anecdotes and descriptions. Through the different essays we are introduced to various facets of her personality, namely, that of an author, mother, partner, daughter, friend and an individual. Of all the personal relationship explored by her in the book, she dedicates a sizeable amount of print-space to the unspoken dynamics between her mother and herself. The power play coexisting with affection among mother and daughter is examined from all angles–daughter, daughter-in-law and mother. For the purpose of exploration the personal as well as the literary have been employed as devices . However, it is the persona of the litterateur and the book lover that wins hands down. As Nair writes, ‘… And so for a moment I cease to be author. Teller of stories. Peddler of imagination. I am the supreme creation of the God of books. A reader and a book lover …’. At yet another place she writes, ‘This is the joy of a magpie woman who has foraged and found a shiny vein of brilliant writing.’

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