This is a curious book. It’s deeply touching but in some important parts the emotional engagement is lacking.
What I mean by that is that the narrator, his sister and even his father, the ‘Big Hoom’ of the title never seem to become much more than the supporting characters that they are. I never felt particularly affected by their suffering and loss, which is substantial.
Perhaps that’s because of the immense power, charisma and tragedy of the central character, Imelda Mendes or Em, as she’s known to her children.
She’s mentally ill, swinging from hilarious and outrageous good humour to such intolerable depths of pain that make the term ‘depression’ hopelessly inadequate.
But she’s drawn with such affection and honesty that you can’t help but love her as much as do her long-suffering family.
This novel unfolds through conversations and Jerry Pinto is an absolute master of conversation. He perfectly captures Em’s free-wheeling and inventive way of looking at the world and her own history. She’s capricious, vulnerable, intense and outrageous. And so, so sad.
So while I may not have ended feeling that I’d learned anything significant about her poor family, reading this brought Em wholly and unforgettably alive.
Oh and it has one of the most beautiful covers I’ve seen in a new book.