Vivaan Shah’s latest is an homage to the Victorian whodunit as well as a critique of ‘development’
The Forsaken Wilderness by Vivaan Shah | Simon & Schuster | Rs 599; 272 pages
In detective or adventure stories from the Victorian era, there is usually a clear-cut demarcation of narrative function from page one—there is the relatively strait-laced, conventional narrator, and then there is the ‘explorer’, a maverick of science and exploration. Some say this archetypal character is derived from the medieval Italian tradition of commedia dell’arte, specifically the stock character ‘Dottore’ (‘the doctor’). Think of John Watson and his first meeting with Sherlock Holmes, for example. In Vivaan Shah’s third novel, The Forsaken Wilderness, this style of character-pairing is employed—but with a twist, in that we’re never quite sure of the narrator-protagonist’s motivations or the precise trajectory of his past.