In her previous collection Boats on Land, there were two short stories that dealt with lesbianism as a theme. Now, in her debut novel Seahorse, Janice Pariat pens a story of love in homosexual and bisexual relationships.
Retelling the Greek myth of Poseidon and his youthful male devotee Pelops, the novel is about Nehemiah, who in his relationship with Nicholas (an enigmatic art historian) discovers the world of art.
Nehemiah is a student of English Literature at Delhi University. He is from a northeastern town. He misses his deceased friend Lenny (who is from his hometown).Already, the theme of the novel is made clear-the feeling of incompleteness that Nehemiah feels without Lenny. This is because he was in love with Lenny. In Delhi, Nehemiah cannot stop thinking of him when he attends classes or goes to small parties. The fact that we feel incomplete when we are not with the one we love, is the main theme of the novel. Nehemiah feels an emptiness inside his heart as he feels he is whole by being with Lenny.
When Nehemiah meets Nicholas, a British art historian doing research in Delhi University, he falls in love with him. Nicholas fills the void inside Nehemiah’s heart. He heals the pain of loss that Nehemiah goes through. There are beautiful restrained descriptions of their lovemaking. Nehemiah learns many facts of Buddhist art from Nicholas, which after some years, leads and inspires him to study art in London. Nehemiah finds happiness in being with Nicholas. Almost every day, he would leave the university to go to the bungalow of Nicholas. They would sit in the garden and have tea, they would drink wine in the kitchen. Other times, they would slowly engage in lovemaking.
The happiness that Nehemiah feels reaches a proportionate degree. Then, one day, Myra an adopted sister-as Nicholas introduces her to Nehemiah-visits the bungalow to spend Christmas with Nicholas. And, at the end of the month, she goes back to Europe. And then, after some months, Nicholas disappears. The theme of the novel again pervades through as Nehemiah misses Nicholas. At the beginning of the novel, Nehemiah narrates:
“And so I begin with Nicholas’ disappearance.
The moment I discovered he was missing. I remember like it was yesterday.
Although perhaps that isn’t an accurate way to phrase it.
Yesterday may be further away than two years past, than seven, or ten. I can’t recall my supper a week ago, but that morning remains palpable in my memory– like the touch of sudden heat or tremendous cold. It’s a wine I’ve sipped, and sipped so long it colours everything else on my palate.”
Nehemiah graduates. He works as an art reviewer for a cultural journal in Delhi. Throughout the many years that continue, he feels the same incompleteness inside similar to the incompleteness he felt when Lenny passed away. When he is awarded a fellowship to London, a note leads him to search for Nicholas. But instead, he meets Myra. And learns that Nicholas lied to him- Nicholas was in a relationship with Myra, and she tells him that she is not his adopted sister. Myra also tells Nehemiah that her child Elliot is Nicholas’. Here, Pariat does not describe the pain that Nehemiah would feel as a lover. Nehemiah, on knowing this, shows no feelings of hurt or sadness.
The things that should be praised about Seahorse are the non linear narrative and Pariat’s knowledge of Buddhist, Indian and other schools of art. Myra’s father, Philip ,a grumpy old man whom Nehemiah learns is gay, is the most excellently created character. His tragic death leads the reader to sympathise Myra.
There is an abundance of metaphors and quotable lines that are like proverbs in the novel. Pariat continues to stay with the L.G.B.T theme in this debut. It is an accessible read with complexities in the relationships between the characters.
Pariat’s style in her previous collection of short stories –Boats on Land– had some replications of the Canadian writer Alice Munro. With Seahorse, stylistically, she is trying to avoid all the quixotic elements that defined Boats on Land. Here, she is trying to make her descriptions and narrative more on the path of realism. The infusion of a lot of poetry in certain lines makes some paragragraphs to be tedious. There are long descriptions of places- for example when Pariat decribes the London streets and sidewalks- which are also tedious like the poetry. The narrative’s good quality is that the lines are short and succinct with an effeminate voice, pausing with a full stop every time. And the reader is absorbed in the story as with each recurrent pause with the full stop, he also pauses for breath.