Book Review by Namitha Varma-Rajesh
Luv.net by Bharti Mohan is a made of teenage stuff – romance, web chat, sex chat, the idealistic “I-can-change-the-world” philosophy, the predictable happy ending. It is targeted at the romance-loving age groups and first-time readers of the English novel. Published by Partridge Publishing India – a self-publication platform operated by Author Solutions LLC in partnership with Penguin Books India – the book is a breezy read, tries to be funny, does not tax your brains, and is written in simple language.
The story is based in the heyday of internet chatting in 2001-2002, when Yahoo Messenger was way more popular and aspirational than Google Hangout can ever dream of being. Junglecat and Lionking begin their friendship in the Flirt Chat chatroom of Yahoo Messenger and go through several phases of trust before confiding in each other their true identities and starting a long-term real-life relationship. The book is divided into two parts – the first part focuses on internet identities while the second part moves on to real identities of the characters.
I personally found the first part more interesting than the second one, especially because the chat language, conversation format and jokes that seemed natural in the formal, “unknown” webchat scenario lost their teeth when the story shifted to real life and required more narration and dialogues that should have sounded less clunky. English may not be the language Bharti Mohan is used to writing in, but the novel suffers from ponderous Indianised English at many levels.
Anyone in India who was introduced to the internet and chatting in the early 2000s can relate to the conversation and the story. The first part makes a statement on the senseless chatting in those early days, and with the profusion of social media options today – Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter – the message is still relevant. However, the author does not overdo the preaching in that department – he merely makes sure you get the point, and then moves on to other points he wants to make.
And Bharti Mohan does have a lot of points to make. In the first part he touches upon environmental cleanliness and eco-friendliness, women’s empowerment and female foeticide, and a bit of social reformation. In the second part, the caste system in India and the reservation for various communities, and the fickleness of social display of wealth are critiqued. However, he has taken care to avoid making these social evaluations meddle with the flow of the story, and dialogues centering these issues sound just how they would when two or more friends are gathered around discussing them.
If I may be permitted a minor digression and nitpicking, a problem I had with the story is that it showed a woman as being able to have an orgasm at the drop of a hat. Being a woman myself, I think that is ridiculous. Women hardly get a proper orgasm in life. Men can “come” in less than five minutes, but women aren’t made that way. They need stimulation, foreplay, good hard thrusts and a lot of love. If men think women come soon, it’s probably only because the fairer sex is great at deception and at faking orgasms.
Since the entire story is built on conversation (webchat format), it is almost like a play. And because the exchange is in webchat/SMS lingo, it spares the author and editor any scrutiny from language Nazis. Despite that, there were a few typos and grammatical errors that could have been avoided with a careful eye. The only reason I’m mentioning grammar and spelling is that one of the persistent problems in self-publication or independent publication is lack of good editing.
The language of the novel belongs to the nouveau-English speaker. Luv.net does not boast of any outstanding writing style, narrative technique or literary value, but manages to keep itself floating on the novelty of the tale. The book belongs to the post Chetan Bhagat-era of English novel writing in India, where a simple love story seeks to attract aspirational English readers in the Indian subcontinent.