First impressions when reading a novel are often crucial - if they are unfavourable you may not continue, of course, but they set the tone, tell you something of what you should expect as you read on. With Priya Basil's new book The Obscure Logic of the Heart, my notes on the opening say "fresh" and "engaged", that is I caught the author's deep involvement with her themes and the spirit and commitment with which she has sought to explore them. Those words stood as I continued, and though there is some lack of focus which I'll come to, it's a strong book throughout its four hundred pages.
It tells the story of idealistic law student Lina, a girl of conscience, who goes against her devout Muslim family to pursue a relationship with the liberal, wealthy Anil, a young man used to getting his own way. With such a clash of cultures, backgrounds, temperaments and beliefs, how can love alone keep the two together, and in what way will the past be significant to the couple's future?
As the plot moves from suburban Birmingham to a palatial home in Nairobi, the UN headquarters in New York and a refugee camp in Sudan, the romance is tempered with realities, from corruption and deceit to illegal arms trading, the demands and dictates of faith and loyalty to family. The impetuous Anil, whose path has been smoothed at all turns by money, cannot grasp that Lina's will is governed by her need to do the right thing, and that this conscientious striving will result in chronic indecision and the sapping of her courage. In turn, Lina is confused and saddened by Anil's lack of empathy and his extravagant presumptions; there is no meeting of minds so how can they remain together in heart?
What brings all this is together is another strand - a love story from decades earlier which forms a subtle thread that binds the contemporary romance. This is sensitively played out and builds to a fine ending, and though that's all I shall say about it, it is in effect the core around which the book's plies are wound.
I mentioned lack of focus and that occurs where there are perhaps too many issues, too many points being made. As a result, the narrative can be laboured and could have been shorter, I feel. Lina's paralysing soul-searching and Anil's egocentricity mean the reader's sympathy fails at times, and there are some episodes which add nothing and where the writer's usual fluency drops a notch or two, but I'm being hyper-critical here as overall it's intelligent, involving and very enjoyable, and a book which gives the reader much to think about.