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The Face At The Window review: The rocking spectre

Kiran Manral’s new novel, a ghost story set in a hill station, has some scary moments.

books Updated: Sep 17, 2016 07:46 IST
Supriya Sharma
Shimla’s Ridge road. Kiran Manral’s new book is set in  a hill town quite like this one
Shimla’s Ridge road. Kiran Manral’s new book is set in a hill town quite like this one(

An elderly Anglo-Indian schoolteacher moves to a small cottage near a tea estate on a hill station after she retires. An old couple cooks for her and looks after her house while her teenaged granddaughter, enrolled in a nearby boarding school, visits her during holidays. There is a genial doctor on call, amiable neighbours just ten minutes away and a daughter in London. The lady, Mrs McNally, who is also the narrator, spends her days flitting between the past and the present, keying memories into words on her typewriter, and taking long, solitary walks in the hills. Hers seems a charmed life. But like most appearances, this one too is deceptive.

Mrs McNally has some dark secrets (the legacy of a tragic parentage and a reckless youth), but things take a turn for the worse when she discovers an unhappy, murderous ghost on the premises. The spectre is connected to her past and for the safety of those around her, it becomes essential for Mrs McNally to understand how.

Scaring people through just words on paper, like making them laugh, is not easy. It either works or does not. In the case of The Face At The Window it does, and there are some truly terrifying moments in the book. The sense of this leisurely, soporific life in a small hill town, the abruptness with which this tranquility is broken and the build-up is reminiscent, at times, of Ruskin Bond’s ghost stories. Manral’s descriptive prose brings this fictional world and those within it to life. This is true of the naive goatherd child Mrs McNally teaches in her free time and who is fiercely protective of her or the apparition, who greets her in the middle of the night, sitting and smiling eerily in her rocking chair.

Author Kiran Manral (courtesy Amaryllis)

But the narrative is unable to sustain the momentum that’s built so well in the first half of the book. Though Manral effortlessly weaves together Mrs McNally’s story and the various subplots, the ending is unsatisfactory and seems somewhat hurried. The book could also have done with tighter editing; there are a lot of extraneous details that do nothing to take the plot forward.

This is not the book for you if taut thrillers and airport or metro reads are your staples. It demands a little time and patience as the rambling narrator slowly takes you into her quaint world and readies you for a good scare.