Sometimes I am totally at a loss as to why a particular book wins a major prize but never more so than the winner of the 2010 Costa First Novel Award, Witness the Night by Kishwar Desai. With so much worth reading out there, dare I give you a bit of advice about it - don't bother!
Desai clearly has a cause to champion and a worthy one too, namely, female infanticide and, increasingly, female foeticide, specifically in the Punjab. No one would argue about the horrors associated with these practices. However, if they are to be incorporated as the pivotal element of a piece of fiction, then the author needs a good narrative. That is sadly lacking. The book is badly written, badly edited and barely hangs together. Irritatingly it is littered with Hindi words which are unexplained by the author, nor is any glossary provided and, to tell you the truth, one can't be bothered to look them up.
Her protagonist, the narrator, is according to herself a hard-bitten forty five year old social worker, an Indian working in Britain but back in the Punjab for the purposes of this novel, a smoker and a copious drinker - which she tells us every few pages. Nevertheless, this 'hard-bitten' social worker [embarrassingly] goes weak at the knees falling into the 'mesmerising green eyes' of a character who is clearly the villain of the piece.
The scariest element of this whole book is provided in the blurb where we are told that Desai's debut novel 'introduces' the feisty protagonist - are they warning us there are more to come?
The final touch is that this horror story is published by an outfit called 'Beautiful Books'!!