If “cringe-lit” (much like cringe-pop) was ever an actual literary genre, Chetan Bhagat would undoubtedly be its reigning offender. But Durjoy Datta, who has in the past authored titles ranging from “I Broke Up, She Didn’t”, to “Now That You’re Rich, Let’s Fall In Love”, would be the prodigal son. He tries, in a sense, to reinvent the game, but still remains firmly rooted within this genre full of stereotypes, over-dramatised Bollywoodesque tropes, and terrible writing.
Datta has cemented his success in the genre through his younger, snappier and millennial-friendly sensibility. Sure, he writes about the same old done-to-death clichés of young love and heartbreak, but he sticks out like the lesser evil in an oeuvre dominated by far worse literary abominations. His newest novel, “The Boy With A Broken Heart” (sequel to “The Boy Who Loved”) is perhaps the most appropriate example of how Datta continues to straddle the thin line between commercial appeal and the kind of social awareness that attracts modern urban millennials, even if that social awareness largely one-dimensional.
From the outset, the plot seems quite straightforward, chock full of the usual tropes that are characteristic of this genre. There’s the angst-ridden, brooding Raghu who’s mourning the loss of his ex-lover Brahmi, and there’s the plucky and tenacious Advaita who is drawn to his elusiveness, and is keen to make him open up to her and unravel the reasons behind his current state of despair. There’s unrequited love, heightened emotions, family drama, and some mystery and intrigue thrown in for good measure. However, the book is not always what it seems.
Beyond the choppy, unwieldy prose and half-baked characterisation, Datta still attempts to delve into certain social justice issues which, though verging on the precipice of being merely token, are nevertheless handled with some degree of maturity. Advaita’s abusive home life, where her mother and sister are constantly mistreated; and a subplot about the exploitative nature of arranged marriage coupled with a discreet condemnation of male privilege that took me surprise, both serve as interesting social commentary, even if they could do with a little more nuance. There’s also a story arc dealing with homosexuality, which ended up a tad melodramatic, but was still a brave attempt.
Admittedly, Datta’s brand of cringe-lit (or any brand of cringe-lit) has never exactly been the kind of book I would voluntarily pick up to read, but with “The Boy With The Broken Heart”, I did end up respecting his sensibility, if not be floored by it. There are certain things that work – the epistolary format, for one, is an interesting means of storytelling (one I’m usually quite partial to), and the plot twists did keep me entertained, if not impressed. The female narrative voice also offers the right kind of subjectivity and perspective required to fuel the social aspects of this novel.
The writing style leaves much to be desired, however, (Datta can’t quite make bilingual phrases work as well as, say, an Anuja Chauhan), and the climax is an obvious dealbreaker. It seems like a far too convenient a means for tying up loose threads and somewhat mars the overall effect of the book.
This book seems tailor-made to appease loyal Durjoy Datta fans, just the right mix of social context and dramatic clichés. But even if you, like me, aren’t exactly fond of the genre, it’s still a quick, breezy read for when you’re in the mood for something relatively less attention-consuming. ‘The Boy With A Broken Heart’ may not be the pinnacle of great Indian fiction, but it is nevertheless relatively enjoyable, and surprisingly poignant in parts.