As a writer and reader it’s always difficult to review books written by writer friends you know. How much I like a friend has no relation to how much I like their books! But I’m glad to say I had no such problem with Damyanti Biswas‘s You Beneath Your Skin. I’ve been a fan of Damyanti and her work since we met at a Curtis Brown workshop at the Singapore Writer’s Festival in 2013; I think I speak for all of us at that workshop when I say we all knew we were listening to something special when she read from her draft in progress. And now, it’s an Amazon bestseller! What a privilege it has been to follow Damyanti’s achievement.
You Beneath Your Skin gripped me from page one with an atypical chase that dives straight into the heart of the story: Anjali Morgan has lost her autistic son in a Delhi traffic jam. Her search for her son mirrors her search for herself: struggling with single motherhood, adjusting to life back in India after years away in America, and trying to come to terms with a complicated relationship with her estranged mother. While helping her married lover, Delhi’s top cop Jatin Bhatt, investigate a series of acid attack crimes, she ends up ensared in a web of personal revenge and violence that she never imagined.
Most of us have probably seen or heard the headlines from startling crimes against women in India: revengeful lovers throwing acid, the gang rape and fatal assault of a young medical student in 2012. We close our eyes and try not to remember the dark shadow this casts in our heart; but Biswas gently opens our eyes to this darkness and helps us understand why. Her characters, even the villains, are that difficult blend of flawed but sympathetic, no one completely white or black, and they leapt off the page and into my heart.
My one quibble with the novel was that I felt the ending came too quickly, and with the author’s literary skill and empathy I wanted her to explore the theme even further with her main characters: what is skin-deep, and what do we really find when we look inside?
The book is written with the intense pacing of a tautly-written crime-novel, but managed to surprise and feel incredibly fresh. Biswas has created a moving story and a cast of characters that will stay with me for a long time, and I look forward very much to her future work—and hopefully, a film adaptation of this superb debut novel.
Order You Beneath Your Skin from Amazon here.
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Note: All proceeds from the novel go towards Indian charities that help acid attack victims and underprivileged children.