Nadia Akbar’s debut novel, set in Pakistan, narrates the stories of the youth, as they grow up in a society ripe with corruption, volatile politics and gender bias. Nida and Bugsy are two such teenagers whose lives get entangled when they meet at a party. After her brother’s death, Nida has grown estranged from her family and chooses to spend her days smoking one joint after another. Bugsy is an RJ trying to harmonize rock music into the music scene in Lahore, a place that is still clinging to the tunes from years gone by.
Other than its hypnotic cover, the title and the premise of Goodbye Freddie Mercury were what drew me to the book. As I kept reading, I began to realize that there wasn’t a specific plot governing the storytelling. There was no discernible start, mid and end to the narrative; no conflict or climax driving the novel forward. Instead, it flowed with the ease of a story gradually unraveling at the touch of a reader. The author’s writing style is very poised and at the same time, makes frequent use of Hindi and Punjabi slang; thus catering to the readers of our subcontinent. It is also observant in its descriptions and fills in necessary details of the surroundings during a scene.
On the surface, this is a typical youth drama fiction. There’s a whole lot of drug and alcohol use, sexual content, petty rivalry, stereotypical characters. The extent to which the characters in this book are shown to be inebriated is quite alarming, considering the fact that they are barely young adults. Nida is your quintessential new girl, who quickly gets assimilated into this group of friends when she starts dating Omer, the supposed leader of the pack. The impression I got from her character depiction is that she is often not mindful of her actions, she doesn’t really stop to think what’s good for her and make choices based on sound judgement. Omer is a rather distasteful spoilt character, objectifying others and paying no heed to consequences. I had placed all of my faith on Bugsy to be somewhat more mature than the others. He is a lot more approachable and considerate.
All throughout, I was wondering how the title connects to the novel. Towards the end, you begin to understand the deeper meaning and I was super impressed. I wished there weren’t as many stereotypes in the book. On the whole, I enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to everyone solely on the basis of how different the style is. It is more realistic and raw than you’d expect it to be.
Ratings – 3.5 out of 5 stars
What do you get out of it? A novel about teenagers from the upper echelons of Lahori society, where insobriety and abuse of power are the norm of the day.
Thank you Penguin India for sending me a copy of this book in exchange of an honest review.