When I was asked to be part of Shrey’s launch of his debut book Saltwater, to be honest, I wondered what it was all about. The cover seemed to be ladlit. The premise seemed debauched enough. But the book, when I read it, just blew me away. And honestly, I am too stolidly built to be blown away that easily. If you’ve ever read Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hugh Selby Jr, this is our equivalent, albeit from the other side of the class divide.
So here is a photograph from the launch event:
And here is a short interview with Shrey about the book, the writing process and why writing chooses the writer rather than the other way around.
1] Beginning with the obvious one, what made you write this book?
I believe writing chooses you rather than the other way around. I have always written, it is my way to make sense of the world. The peeling away of the randomness to find underlying patterns. It took some timely encouragement and a leap of faith to believe this writing could lead to an actual book.
Saltwater was inevitable. I believe it just HAD to be written, a representation of the chaos of youth in brutal, honest terms. The world itself is compelling – with all of its rules and insecurities, and the cause-and-effect relationships that govern its narrative.
There have been books before Saltwater that cover the desolation of growing up in an otherwise benign environment – I think the genre is categorised as ‘Blank Coming Of Age’…
These are books I have loved very much. None however spoke of an Indian experience, and yet, I was taken aback at the similarities that were easily visible to me.
This increasing similarity to a “western” growing up experience, with all of it’s good and bad, is one of the things we are going to have to grapple with…
2] The book is very dark, unrelenting and disturbing. Did you feel there were places you consciously held back from getting grimmer?
From the beginning I was extremely clear on how I wanted Saltwater to end.
I had to be very careful in the construction and order in which the scenes are assembled – to get the mood exactly right, to pull the reader into the head space of Rish, the protagonist.
Saltwater gets trippy and out-of-control, but I don’t think any of the events are terribly implausible in the context of its larger world.
There were a lot of pretty good scenes that got left at the editing table for many reasons – but I didn’t consciously hold back from going to specific places, just because they might be difficult to palate.
3] What is it about the protagonists of the book, why are they so purposeless? Would you call them the lost generation?
Rish, the protagonist is purposeless, and I think he struggles with it through the novel. Other significant characters move through the book with purpose – even if their short term goals do not satisfy our, or even Rish’s scrutiny.
Perhaps the millennials are a lost generation; they are definitely a generation in transit.
They can afford to find their own purpose, as opposed to having a purpose defined externally, through society or whatever… This is, of course, the ideal scenario.
However sometimes it takes some time to find that reason, find that purpose, some may never even find it at all. Is that better or worse than chasing goals which aren’t yours? I am not sure.
4] How long was this book in writing?
The book took me the best part of 2 years to write and edit into a complete draft.
There were extended editing sessions with my agents and then subsequently with Penguin. Everyone was great though – despite the edgy content, the book went through without a single cut.
5] Who are the authors, the books you turn to over and over again? Have any of them been inspirations for this book?
I was 14 when I read The Great Gatsby. It completely blew me away; it is when I decided that writing a novel is going to be a life goal. I still re-read it, and the words have that same electricity every time. That power has not faded for the better part of a century.
I also love Bret Easton Ellis, his early work is a huge influence on my writing. I like a lot of American writers in general, now that I think about it. Hunter S. Thompson and Charles Bukowski are other favorites I revisit a lot.
6] What are you working on now?
I am working on a second novel for Penguin though it is still a little early to discuss any details. It is a departure from Saltwater.
I am also working on a few smaller projects. I guess a bit of a palate cleanser when the novels get too heavy. It is liberating to stop digging inside psyches, which is essentially what attracts me to the Novel as a medium; it’s good to just forget all that and simply chase the awesome.
Finally, if you want to read an extract from the book, go here.
I have an extra copy of Saltwater with me, which I’m going to send out to the most interesting answer to the question “Which novel would you call your coming of age novel and why?” Only India addresses please, as usual. Contest ends end of March. Shrey will select the winner, and I have no role to play in the selection, as always.