Haunting Bombay by Shilpa Agarwal

Haunting-Bombay Title:  Haunting Bombay
Author:  Shilpa Agarwal
Release Date: April 1, 2009
Publisher:  Soho Press
Pages:  382
Genre:  Fiction, Mystery
Source:  Publisher, TLC Book Tours

Haunting Bombay revolves around Pinky Mittal, a thirteen-year-old Indian girl, who after being orphaned as a baby, was raised by her strong and loving grandmother Maji, and the two of them live with her aunt, uncle, and three cousins.  Her aunt, Savita, truly dislikes Pinky for no reason that Pinky can understand, though other than conflicts with Savita Pinky lives a mostly normal life.  Except for the fact that there’s always been the question of why Savita insists the bathroom door always be bolted at night, a question that Pinky can’t seem to let go.  One night, Pinky’s curiosity gets the best of her and she opens the door, unleashing the ghost of a baby girl who died in the house more than a decade ago, and with the ghost comes shameful family secrets that Pinky can only attempt to understand… secrets which must be uncovered in order for the ghost to cease her haunting of this family.

There is a lot to love about Haunting Bombay.  Agarwal’s writing is really very beautiful.  I got the impression that she meticulously selected each and every word she used in the novel to create the best possible language for the reader to enjoy.  Also, she does a tremendous job drawing these characters – they were all complex, interesting, and so distinctive from one another.  I really enjoyed getting to know all of them, but I have to say that my favorite was definitely Pinky.  There was just such an innocence about her, which was so lovely, yet also a hardness because of her life circumstances.  It must be difficult to know that your aunt despises you, and Agarwal expertly created this reality in Pinky’s character.

I also enjoyed the ghost story in this book, at least to the point where I wanted to learn what the truth about these family secrets were, and why exactly this ghost was so set on haunting this family.  The mystery was pretty well crafted, enough so that I really didn’t know how it would turn out until everything was revealed in the end.

I do have to agree with Natasha that perhaps the ghost part was a bit too much for my liking – I,too, would probably have preferred more of a suggestion of a ghost rather than how much we actually heard from the ghost.  It would have been creepier, I think, to not know so much about the ghost – but it was still a really interesting aspect of the novel overall.

I have to be honest, though, that when all is said and done I didn’t connect with Haunting Bombay to the extent that I would have liked to.  I definitely liked the novel, and I appreciate Agarwal’s beautiful writing within, but overall there was just something missing for me.  And when I say this, I truly mean for ME – somehow I was just not connecting emotionally with the characters.  I’m not sure why that is, but I have to admit that it hampered my enjoyment of the novel to an extent, so the book ended up less than perfect for me.

All that being said, overall Haunting Bombay is a strong novel that I think readers of literary fiction, multicultural fiction, and mysteries/ghost stories will really love.


9 thoughts on “Haunting Bombay by Shilpa Agarwal”

  1. And this is why I’ll never be a writer: “I got the impression that she meticulously selected each and every word she used in the novel to create the best possible language for the reader to enjoy.” I’m terrible with language. Or at least, I can’t create what the author has created in HAUNTING BOMBAY.

    Sorry you couldn’t connect with the characters! You’re really clear on what worked and what didn’t, though, which I love!

  2. Thanks for a really interesting review. Although you didn’t totally like ‘Haunting Bombay’ the fact that you say the characters were distinct enough for you enjoy getting to know them intrigues me. I might not buy the book, but I’ll definitely make an effor to borrow it some time in the future.
    Maureen. http://www.thepizzagang.com

    1. You know what, Kathy, I really don’t know what exactly is missing for me, and I wish I did. It’s frustrating to not be able to properly explain my thoughts!

  3. I’ve read other glowing reviews, but still haven’t added it to my list. Thanks for making me feel good about that 🙂

  4. Thanks for the review. I love novels that fall under the category “multi-cultural fiction”. It brings to mind books I loved like The Namesake and A Thousand Splendid Suns. Even though you gave it mixed reviews, thanks for bringing it to our attention.

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