New Fiction Review: Mrs. Varman by Sanjeeta Behera

The Fiction Addiction
Mrs. Varman(cover art from the publisher)

Mrs. Varman by Sanjeeta Behera is a wide-ranging character-driven novel. In this story, we see how one character connects to another, and over time, we see how their choices and connections interact. Our story is mostly focused on Julia Varman, and readers become so familiar with her thoughts, her romantic past, her friendships, her goals for her life, her private disappointments, and even her favorite java chip frappucino.

But an omniscient narrator takes readers through the fascinating and complicated lives of people close to Julia, too, and shows their histories, goals, and internal feelings. In this way, readers can see these lives connect. For example, in Julia's friendship with Pinky, readers don't just see Julia's thoughts and feelings, they can also see Pinky's internal struggles with her divorce and learn about events that happened before she and Julia became close.  Readers can hear some of Julia's husband's thoughts too, although some of his life is obscured because at times he's a mystery to Julia herself. This lets the reader feel some of Julia's anxiety and affection, as well as developing his character. When Julia meets Vijay, readers have the chance to discover Vijay's dark and dangerous past, even though he's telling Julia he's an assistant manager at a local restaurant. With this style, the narration focuses on Julia's experiences, while also giving context and depth to the other characters.

There's not exactly a central conflict in Mrs. Varman, but as I learned more about Julia, my central question was simply, would she be happy? Would her infertility lead to divorce, separation or just destroy the joy in her marriage? Would she be able to adopt a certain little girl and create her family that way? Or would she discover that motherhood isn't part of her path, and pursue one of the other interests in her life? Would she decide to stay Mrs. Varman, and stay with her beloved husband, or would she separate, and even go by her special nickname, "Juice," after all? In some ways, this book reminded me of Mrs. Dalloway, with the focus on domestic affairs, some stream-of-consciousness description, and a really deep look at our main character. I wonder if the title is a deliberate nod?

There are unusual language choices throughout this novel. Sometimes this added to the character development, leading to the reader to wonder why this particular word was chosen for this moment in the character's life. The frequent use of non-standard expressions and historical vocabulary asks the reader to think more about the scene and consider why these were chosen.

Mrs. Varman is a slice-of-life novel, although the book drifts into many lives, and shows us many different lifestyles. The story takes place in modern India, and includes characters from a well-traveled, professional family, with plenty of traditional customs, as well as characters in serious poverty. The novel gives an interesting sense of place, with ubiquitous Starbucks and texting, as well as characters choosing traditional clothes and eating tiffen-box meals.  As usual, I was particularly interested in the descriptions of food, and this is a nice novel for foodies, since Julia also loves to taste and enjoy her meals.

Overall, this novel is an engaging look at one woman's life and choices.

I received a review copy of this book to review, all opinions are my own, as always This post may contain affiliate links, which means that I may receive a commission at no additional cost to you, if you purchase a book I've recommended here on my book blog..

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