A Cycle of the Moon
by Uma Parameswaran
Tsar Books, 2010
217 pp. $20.95
If these are the questions that will undoubtedly draw the reader into the pages of A Cycle of the Moon, it is not the answer to them that he seeks by the end of A Cycle of the Moon. The scandal is but a pretext for Parameswaran to explore a myriad of social issues such as the question of the emancipation of women in a traditional South Indian context in the 1950’s, intergenerational conflict and changing attitudes in a conservative environment, and the fluctuating notion of Indian identity at home and abroad. Most of all, through the protagonist Mayura and several other characters, the author explores the struggle of those individuals who seek to reconcile the crudest aspects of passion and sexuality with their intellectual and aesthetic ideals.
Like Mayura’s return to Hari Villas, A Cycle of the Moon is anunexpected surprise. The issues it forces us to confront are initially unwelcome but nonetheless crucial for the universe of the tale. Parameswaran’s writing style is indeed, as the novel’s blurb puts it, “deceptively simple.” What seems like a light, meaningless intrigue slowly knits its web around us, and, before we realize it, we are personally involved in Mayura’s story – and in that of every other character. Just as minding one’s business is not something anybody does at Hari Villas it is impossible for the reader not to be caught up the lives of these characters.
The reader alternately becomes part of Mayura’s conscience, and an observer of her trajectory. We are both allowed into her deepest secrets and emotions while at the same time feeling shut out of her life, just like the rest of her family who are a group of clueless outsiders. We see the world in Mayura’s eyes and yet her conscience rejects us, as she has not yet made peace with it herself. We feel her confusion, resentment and guilt as if it was ours, and yet we are constantly left guessing her intentions and discovering new facts until the very end of the book. Finally, we feel trapped between Mayura’s feelings of hostility towards her family and their reciprocal attitude; we are caught in the place where incomprehension is met with a refusal to understand.
The theme of moral responsibility is central in A Cycle of the Moon, but there are no easy answers available to help us solve the infinite dilemma the novel presents us with. Does Mayura have a moral responsibility towards her family and husband? Or, if Mayura had sufficient reason to flee Raghu, as everyone suspects in secret, does her family not have a moral responsibility towards her? Guilt is omnipresent in the book, but just who should bear the weight of it is unclear.
The reader’s role in A Cycle of the Moon stands halfway between that of a powerless witness and that of a judge with complete responsibility, a role echoed by Mayura’s grandfather, Judge Ramakrishna Iyer, who notes down and judges his granddaughter’s actions in a folder, in a conservative yet philosophical manner. Even the pillar of moral duty and tradition in the house of Hari Villas, the elder, is also uncertain at whose doorstep to place responsibility.
If Parameswaran’s writing is “deceptively simple”, it is also because she writes most beautifully and philosophically but in a simple and clear register. Her style is also multidimensional, as it bears the expression of each of the characters’ deepest feelings – from the vulgar and demeaning to the comical and light; from the formal and diplomatic to the cruel and violent. The author does not just write from within herself, she writes from within her characters inner worlds, in a variety of voices that all sound authentic. The poet in Parameswaran also shines through in this novel of guilt and passion. The reader who pays attention to the language as much as to the story will be fully rewarded. Powerful expressions like “orgasm of pain” carry the idea that there are no pure joys in life; that moments of joy are always accompanied by torment and unhappiness. A beautiful yet violent nature speaks to usof the conflict, disappointment, crushed ideals and resentment that make up the entirety of Mayura’s wounded soul: “Soon,” Parameswaran writes, “the clouds would turn red and orange and yellow, the colors rioting and slashing each other for a brief half hour before withdrawing into grey brooding.” In A Cycle of the Moon, nature is powerful, sexually charged, full of tension and ugliness, and yet filled with beauty and serenity, as are the conflicted characters in the novel. The book teaches us that ideals are but mere concepts, and that if life is indeed filled with passion, this passion manifests itself in both appealing and monstrous forms as it clashes with society’s rigid codes of conduct.
Whereas the ending of the novel represents a drastic shift that may leave more than one reader perplexed and perhaps initially disappointed, others may understand that the outcome of the novel is but the logical conclusion of a story about acceptance through the repression of one’s ideals. With the complex issues it presents, the deep reflections it provokes and Parameswaran’s simple yet evocative writing style, A Cycle of the Moon is definitely worth reading. This very accessible book reads like a light read, but leaves the reader nonetheless deeply affected, especially once the book is closed and placed back on the shelves because it leaves many questions unanswered.
Julie Leroux holds a B.A. degree in comparative literature from Université de Montréal and is currently pursuing an M.A. degree in English at McGill University. Her literary interests include Gothic writing, 19th century science fiction, the works of H.G. Wells and H. Lovecraft, and the impact of Darwinism on British literature.
Volunteers for Issue 8
For copy-editing this issue of MTLS thanks:
- Amanda Tripp
- Carmel Purkis
- Rosel Kim
- Julia Cooper
- Lequanne Collins-Bacchus
MTLS is grateful to Jean-Pierre Houde for his hard work on web management.