Book Review: The Gallery Explores Women’s Independence and the Idea of Belongingness

Manju Kapur‘s new novel, The Gallery, is the story of women and their intertwined lives through two generations and how an art gallery impacts their lives, writes Dr Sneha Pathak.

Manju Kapur’s novels are predominantly about women and their inner lives. She creates women characters who feel real and substantial, irrespective of whether one comes to like them or not. Her latest novel, The Gallery, was published after a gap of almost seven years but has all the quintessential characteristics that her readers have come to expect from Kapur’s writing.

The Gallery is, once again, the story of women and their intertwined lives through two generations. There are two families at the centre of this story, the rich and privileged couple Minal and Alok and their daughter Ellora one on hand, and their employees Matti, and Krisna and their daughter Tashi on the other. Matti is brought in as Ellora’s nanny at Alok’s insistence when Minal decides to open a gallery, and because Tashi and Ellora are the same age, they grow up together. Or as much together as the daughter of the maalik and naukar after a certain age can.

As the novel progresses, we watch the characters grow, develop and change as Minal goes from success to success in her gallery business with her partner Katha and employee Mona, while Matti stays at home and takes care of the daughters. The novel, which opens with Minal’s going off to college, comes almost a full circle with Minal returning home after seeing Ellora off to university and planning a big change in her own life, while Matti continues to worry as Tashi tries to find her calling in the art world after a few setbacks even as the author hints that her life will continue to be intertwined with that of Minal.

The lives of Minal and Matti are like two streams that run parallel to each other, converging only briefly. But they are both a fixed presence in each-other’s life. While Matti makes Minal’s life easier by looking after Ellora competently, Minal provides Matti with some semblance of self-worth when she, for example, helps her to open a separate bank account. The two men in the novel, Alok and Krisna, keep flitting in and out of the book’s pages. Alok is stingy while Krisna is frustrated and unhappy because he feels he is being chained down by the sahibs. Krisna’s frustration with his life and his dissatisfaction with everything that the sahibs do for his family is mirrored in a distorted way in the resentment which Alok feels whenever Minal tries to do something for Krisna’s family. Minal and Matti also become reflections of each other – as working women, as wives and as mothers, their pains, worries, fears and joys echo each other more often than not.

Another theme that runs through the narrative is the class divide between the rich and the poor. As Ellora’s playmate, Tashi spends a lot of time inside the big house, receiving cast-offs and cheap presents that would make the kids of her age in their Nepali village gape in wonder. But nothing hides the fact that these are cast-offs. As the two girls grow up and Minal tries her best to do things for Tashi, both the girls know that they aren’t equal despite their continuing friendship. The idea of home and belongingness is also explored by Kapur, particularly through Tashi’s character. Born in Nepal but brought up in Golf Links in Delhi, spending a large part of her life with Ellora but living in the servant quarters, she is a character caught between two worlds, unsure of where she really belongs.

The Gallery is also a novel about art and its value, as all the characters have their life impacted by it. La Galleri, Minal’s brainchild, also becomes the reason for the lives of these characters to converge, for them to gain hope and direction in life. In an interview published in Mint Lounge, Kapur says, “My work is associated with families, but I wanted this book to reflect a larger world. It is about women going out, finding jobs, finding themselves, and finding ways to be independent. That’s why I called it The Gallery.”

A fast-paced novel that feels like an easy, quick read but will leave the readers thinking about its characters and their fates for a long time, The Gallery is definitely recommended.

Pick up Manju Kapur’s The Gallery from any Kunzum store or WhatsApp +91.8800200280 to order. Buy the book(s) and the coffee’s on us.

About the Author

Sneha Pathak has a PhD in English Literature and has taught at college and university level. She currently works as a freelance writer/translator. Her writings have appeared in various publications such as Muse India, Purple Pencil Project, The Wise Owl Magazine, The Curious Reader, Mystery and Suspense Magazine etc. She recently published her first book of translation, an anthology of stories translated from Hindi. Follow her here: Instagram

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