A novel that made it onto the Man Booker longlist in 2015, Sleeping on Jupiter was much anticipated, for this acclaim alone. Gripping at points we are held from the beginning but there are lulling moments too, where it seems like little is happening, and this is where it lets itself down.
Anuradha Roy was educated in Hyderabad, Calcutta and also Cambridge. Editor at Permanent Black, an independent press publishing in South Asian history, politics and culture, her focus is clearly there, as we also see with Sleeping on Jupiter.
A train stops at a railway station. A young woman jumps off. She has wild hair, sloppy clothes, a distracted air. She looks Indian, yet she is somehow not. The sudden violence of what happens next leaves the other passengers gasping. The train terminates at Jarmuli, a temple town by the sea. Here, among pilgrims, priests and ashrams, three old women disembark only to encounter the girl once again. This raises many questions, an unlikely place for someone so young. Over the next five days, the old women live out their long-planned dream of a holiday together; their temple guide finds ecstasy in forbidden love; and the girl is joined by a photographer battling his own demons. The degree of violence beneath the serene surface of the town becomes apparent when their lives overlap and collide. Unexpected connections are revealed between devotion and violence, friendship and fear as Jarmuli is revealed as a place with a long, dark past that transforms all who encounter it.
Protagonist Nomi witnesses her father’s murder and is deserted by her mother all within a couple of days. The beginning of this pulls you in and the prose captures this stunningly. However, the novel does lose me about half way through, as it dwindled in tale. With characters that needed fleshed out a little more, and a tale that didn’t feel quite finished, or refined, we are disappointed. With such a promising beginning.
A novel about religion, love, and violence in modern India, Sleeping on Jupiter reveals the potential in Roy as a stunning storyteller. With some stark imagery and wonderful prose, there is still much to get from reading this novel.