What can you really tell from a book cover?

I was out for lunch with the boys the other day and in the café was a pile of secondhand books for sale in aid of the local hospice. After a quick glance through, there was one that caught my eye: The Colour of Love by Preethi Nair.

The Colour of Love by Preethi Nair

The Colour of Love by Preethi Nair (Harper Collins, 2005)

I’d never heard of the author, the title sounded pretty run of the mill and the cover was bog standard chick-lit… Yet the back cover blurb was intriguing and they’d managed to get quotes from both Glamour magazine and the Guardian, indicating a more mixed appeal than it originally suggested. So I decided that for 50p in aid of a good cause I’d give it a go.

When Nina finds her not-quite fiancé in bed with another woman, her world falls apart and she also jacks in her job. So far, so familiar. Nina is an Indian lawyer who lives with her parents in a Croydon semi, working on the edges of the art world when all she really wants to do is paint. She has a French boyfriend who has recently proposed while her parents are dreaming of a traditional arranged marriage.  Not daring to tell her parents, she continues to go out in a business suit every morning and somehow finds herself engaged to Raj – a “nice boy” who represents stability. A series of coincidences and misunderstandings leads to her artwork being spotted by a major art dealer, and the spiral of half-truths, lies and deceit spins out of control.

But as Nina’s true colours come to light, she finally sees what really matters and has to decide whether to follow her heart.

Being set in Croydon, where I grew up myself, added to the familiarity, yet the Indian dimension was something new, and for the first three quarters of the book I was totally hooked. Nina is an appealing character: her struggles between head and heart, family expectations and being true to herself are very convincing. Nair has a gift for description, fulfilling the old adage of “show, don’t tell” and deals movingly with childhood trauma and grief. It is these passages that give the book an added depth, reminiscent of Marian Keyes, although at less epic length.

I found the later section less convincing – it was as though events had escalated into such a tangle of deceit that the author couldn’t quite find her way out again – the resolution was ultimately rather glib, although the very end was nicely ambiguous. I was also incredibly irritated by the repeated use of “and I” where “and me” would have been correct – something else Nair has in common with Keyes, incidentally. (And apparently their editors don’t know any better either.)

These quibbles aside, it was a great discovery, and an author I’d look out for again. Intriguingly, while researching the author I discovered that the story is in fact semi-autobiographical. After her first novel, Gypsy Masala was rejected, Nair set out to self-publish, inventing her own PR company along the way – an endeavour which won her the Asian Woman of Achievement Award and a three book deal with Harper Collins. For more on this see The Double Life of Preethi Nair.

So, does the girly cover do it justice? It’s probably fair enough, given that it fulfils the basic chick-lit template. But perhaps this novel would have found a wider audience without it. Who knows?

Related articles:

The only problem with ‘chick lit’ is the name (Jenny Geras, Guardian, 14 Feb 2012)

Decca Aitkenhead interview Sophie Kinsella (Guardian, 12 Feb 2012)

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About forwardtranslations

I'm a freelance literary translator from German and French to English. The title of my blog comes from Mary Schmich's description of reading: it struck home with me, and seems especially apt for translated fiction. Here are some of my musings on what I'm reading, re-reading, reading to my children, and translating.
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