The Monsters Still Lurk by Aruna Nambiar – Book Review

  • Author: Aruna Nambiar
  • Paperback: 260 pages
  • Publisher: Rupa Publications India (20 July 2019)
  • Language: English


We were an ordinary family, with conventional lives. We were mostly happy, but always cautious of too much happiness. We were hardly religious, just pious enough to keep us on the straight and narrow. We bickered a little but would never have thought to be estranged. We feared illness and anticipated eventual death, but we expected life to follow a certain path, a particular schedule. Until…

It is 1991. As Rajiv Gandhi is assassinated and a new government comes to power, setting in motion a process of economic reforms that will transform India, an ordinary family is about to experience detours from the traditional middle-class script of their lives. Over the next quarter-century, as the world around them changes in ways unexpected, their lives too wind along uncharted trails, sometimes sunlit, sometimes shadowy and forbidding. Funny, perceptive and moving, The Monsters Still Lurk is a bittersweet saga of love, loss, aging and shifting family dynamics, and a keenly observed portrait of post-liberalization India that captures the zeitgeist of a rapidly evolving society.

My Review

“We grow older, but the monsters still lurk, salivating and multiheaded, in the shadowy corners of our minds; death, disease, and infirmity are the terrifying ogres of our adulthood.”

I took unusually long to finish this book but once I am done with it, I could only be happy that I picked it up in the first place. This is one of those books which would continue to stir my heart for a really long time.

The Monsters Still Lurk is set in the Bombay when it was not named Mumbai. It takes us through Kerala, and to Bangalore when it was far from being christened with a name ‘Bengaluru.’ Narrated in the first person, it is a moving tale of shifting family dynamics as the modernization is making its way in our ordinary Indian lives. The book, replete with a richly dense narration, is a compelling story of our middle-class families which live by aspirations, weaved in the string of love and care, and takes pride in being connected to its roots. The story beautifully makes us peek into a life that comes to an end after a long journey.

We look for our answers revolving around life, we seek counsel, we rely on predictions, we make grand plans, we spin fairy-like dreams but do we really have an inkling of what is there in store for us in our destiny? The book paints a vivid picture of a middle-class family of three siblings and their parents with their humble living. It also sketches the Indian society which does not look upon at the inter-culture marriage approvingly,  which would fuss over high-paying or no job condition, which heavily relies on astrology and godmen to bring their luck in their favor, which still looks at the culture of urbanization with disdain despite living it every day.

Nambiar displays the ability to bring out subtle characters and portray them with their flaws and eccentricities. She exhibits a remarkable prowess at describing the humans in their raw forms. She can dig deep in a society, in a culture, in a country and bring out the best pieces to be strung together to present a spellbinding and relatable tale. I found this book pulling me towards it as I flipped the pages. The narration is excellent and the characters so real. I really could not stop myself from not feeling and visualizing what was happening right in the story. That feeling of helplessness as you inch closer to death shattered me as much as a mother’s love to take care of her despaired child softened something inside me. I would be underestimating if I just say that the book was unputdownable. In reality, I did close it sometimes to absorb what was being said and narrated. Towards the end, my eyes moistened as the truth dawned upon me. It took me to the flashback where I remembered my Grandma in her last days. All I could say is that I am grateful to get this opportunity to savor this book.



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