"Truth is a cliff at sunset! It's different every time, and each time as true!." Swaminathan leads the reader through a maze of truths and half-truths in this psychological thriller. Slowly but steadily, she peels away layers of half-truths and untruths to reveal a layer of truth but the reader is left wondering if that is indeed the final truth. "So many truths, to so many people, which one shall I choose for you ?" challenges Swaminathan in this game of hide-and-seek played out by the reader and the writer. The plot of the novel seems simple enough. The main protagonist, Clarice Aranxa, suffering from a degenerative motor neuron disease, comes to Bougainvillea House in Baga (Goa) to die. She is accompanied by her daughter Marion and her care-giver Pauline. But this return sends her hurtling back into a past where she had lost her husband Clive. Death trails her doggedly. Death of Keith, Marion?s fiance rears its ugly head. Within a short space of time, she is faced with the death of the local doctor Justin Borges and his mother Arula Borges. Clarice retreats into a catatonic silence after both these deaths. So what is the truth behind these deaths? Are these deaths accidental or are they murders? Who is the perpetrator of the crimes? Dr Liaqat Khan, her doctor, decides to find out and in so doing leads the reader to the final unsavory truth. The narrative is not built around an all-knowing God-like narrator but is pieced together with the narratives of Clarice and Dr Khan. Clarice, the narrator sets the tone of mystery and secrecy with "the rain stayed, hanging at the window, whispering scandal" and the "darkness tucked the world out of sight." So while Clarice's narrative distorts the truth and sets the reader on the wrong trail, Dr Khan's narrative attempts to make sense out of the different brands of truth. Slowly his investigations as a doctor mesh with his attempt to nail the murderer. The motif of death and sickness, a never-ending refrain of this novel, adds to the atmosphere of apprehension and dread. Kalpana Swaminathan takes the reader into the twilight zone of a hitherto unexplored human psyche. With the precision of a surgeon with a scalpel she lays open a world where sanity and dementia meet, where the physical disease becomes the symptom of a diseased psyche. While her earlier book, Ambrosia and Afters tells the story of the turbulence of growing up, Bougainvillea House hinges around the tumult of a life heading towards its final journey. Swaminathan has dexterously put together a huge jigsaw puzzle for the reader to solve. The clues she hands out send the reader on a wild goose chase while she tantalizingly holds out the promise of this time, the truth?. And yet the book is more than just a deftly written psychological drama. It is a creative rendition of the final journey towards a menaced, angry and 'solid death'. At the end of it, the reader, like Clarice, makes the ultimate 'peace with truth'.
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