I first came across Damyanti Biswas through her blog Damyanti Writes, which is full of useful information for aspiring authors, mostly in the form of interviews with industry insiders and published authors. I’ve been following this blog for a few years now, and it’s obvious Damyanti has a dedication both to the craft of writing, and to creating an online community to support other writers.
Looking back, despite the anguish and frustrations she alludes to in her blog, suffered as she tried to gain traction in her writing career, it was perhaps inevitable that Damyanti would one day make it. It looks like You Beneath Your Skin is the novel with which she has finally found the success she’s been striving for (and I think she deserves). It’s published by Simon & Schuster India, but is available worldwide, and I understand the sales figures are very healthy.
I should probably warn you that this book is not a comfortable read. The streets of New Delhi are a dark, unsettling backdrop to a story that covers very disturbing issues. As a crime thriller, it falls outside of my usual reading matter (although as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t have much time to read novels these days; so I’m not sure I have any ‘usual’ reading matter!) But it’s good to try something different. It’s a book that gave me sleepless nights; both because of the subject matter, and because by the time I put it down at night it was generally a lot later than I realised or had intended. It’s quite addictive, albeit rather scary. I found the setting interesting. Damyanti creates a vivid impression of New Delhi, a place I haven’t visited (and after reading this, I’m not sure I ever want to!) She’s also created an interesting set of very individual, rather complex characters. It’s a fairly fast-moving story, but there’s a great deal of depth – it’s a very thoughtful exploration of how the characters are affected by what they experience, and despite the darkness, there is hope in there too.
The kind of books I normally read don’t tend to have a plot twist at the end. This one does (well, with any detective story you have to keep your readers in suspense, don’t you?). But it’s by no means obvious – it kept me guessing until close to the end, when the truth was revealed. I have to admit to having had a little difficulty working out who was who some of the time. Various names and ways of addressing the characters were employed, including (I think) Hindi words for mother, brother, son, etc. Different naming protocols, in a different culture – just something you have to learn. And you know what most Brits are like when it comes to languages! But I like to be challenged when I’m reading, and in this case it was all part of the process of having a different culture brought to life for me.
I know Damyanti has been involved with charities that help people who have suffered from the issues dealt with in the novel; particularly survivors of acid attacks. One more reason to buy the book is that she is donating her proceeds from it to these charities.
It can be difficult reading a book by someone you know (albeit only through their online presence). There’s always the fear that the book might not be up to much. But in this case, having seen some shorter examples of Damyanti’s writing, I wasn’t expecting to be disappointed. And I’m glad to say I wasn’t disappointed; I’m very happy to recommend You Beneath Your Skin.
text & photo © Graham Wright 2020