Jacob Hills by Ismita Tandon Dhanker promises to be a story that draws you into the darkness lying behind the bright veneer of an army station. I have normally found that such stories work best when the story opens with a brightness and love for a couple of newbies in the area and, slowly, the story get darker and darker as the newcomers discover layer after layer of grime. Needless to say, such stories are normally told from the point-of-view of the newcomers. I need also to give the disclaimer that I am not partial to dark tales.
Jacob Hills is a tale of dark happenings in an army station of the 80s. Though the incidents of the tale are dark, I need mention that the narrative is not. Whether it works or not for a connoisseur of this genre I would not know but I found the book readable because it was written this way. The book is quite interesting and the English excellent - something that I am finding to be relatively rare in Indian publishing. The author has managed to keep interest in a relatively large cast of characters and managed to keep the clarity of the intertwined story lines.
The author has managed to maintain this clarity despite using a multiplicity of point-of-view characters. Each chapter is told from a different person's point of view. No matter how laudable I may find her command over her narrative, I must say that the story would probably have come out far better if she had adopted the newcomer's point of view and opened out the story. Starting the story with a scene of darkness sets the mood for expecting more of the same and, thus, the novel does not work as a journey from seeming brightness to muddy depths. Also, some of the murk is described in almost an offhand manner thus converting it into something like party gossip rather than dark secrets.
The book is a very good read as it is written. It could have been written far better and been made memorable but in that, alas, the author has not succeeded.