Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto | Book Review

Em and the Big Hoom was gifted to me about 3 years ago. I remember being excited about it but I hadn’t really paid attention to the cover. And since then, it sat on my shelf, staring half-hopefully, half-forlornly at me. It is only yesterday that I thought, “Enough is enough. I cannot go on neglecting this book that I’ve heard so much about.” Thinking thus, I pulled out the book and it was then that the beauty of the cover struck me.

It struck me enough that I need to explain here how it looks. With a dark purple matte cover, purple stained pages, and a font that is ready to make your heart pump faster, this paperback copy is a delight to the eye. It is so beautiful that it sort of became difficult to breathe as I lay eyes on it. Even now, I have the savage urge to protect it with all I have. I finished reading it this evening but I haven’t yet removed the newspaper cover that I put on it when I started reading the book. You can imagine the rest.

Book cover for Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto

Em and the Big Hoom is the story of two kids whose mother, Imelda, or simply Em suffers from a mental illness that forgives no one. Not Em, not her husband Augustine (called The Big Hoom), and definitely not her children. Told from the perspective of the son, Em and the Big Hoom delves into his mind and brings out thoughts that he even hated admitting to himself. How he deals with his mother and her illness, how the household goes on in different times that dance according to the diktats of her depression, and his relationship with the people in his family forms the story.

I couldn’t understand the word ‘Hoom’ and it’s pretty early in the story that the reasoning is given. I still feel that the reason it is used isn’t as compelling as it feels it is, but who am I to judge? But the title is not what makes this book.

What completely propels Em and the Big Hoom from the area of wannabe eccentric novel to a thing of beauty is its writing. It is frank and filled with dark humor – a humor that doesn’t offend you but makes you wonder why you never thought of those truths before. It breaks your heart every inch of the way and makes you want to cry softly – because screaming is for people like the Em. Us? We become the Big Hoom.

I want to go on and on about how well this book brings forward the angst while staying in the area of dark humor, but I simply cannot. There’s nothing more heartbreaking than living with a loved one and watching them suffer. And when the sufferer is one’s own mother, you are, many-a-times, at a loss as to how to handle it all.

The humor is placed in the most unexpected of places. There were times when I started chuckling and seconds later, I would stare off into space, feeling incredibly guilty for laughing while Em suffered. What is it about this book? I’d ask myself. And I’d get no answer. Then I’d read something about Em’s marriage and how she cried about it and how someone asked her, “Bachpan ke liye ro rahi ho?” And I’d purse my lips trying very hard not to cry.

Em and the Big Hoom vacillates between the past and the present. With the timelines being blurred in so many places, I had to concentrate hard in order to stay connected. But with a story such as this, this timeline mix-up is rewarding, because then, I understood the character arcs better. Plus it is so easy to read! Maybe if the resolution in so many other books that strive to be clever were like the one in Em and the Big Hoom, the world would be a much better place to live in and read.

All in all, Em and the Big Hoom is a book about mental illness, dealing with it, dealing with mental illness of a loved one, and most importantly, love. Must, must read!

Rating: 4/5 stars

Until next time, keep reading and add melodrama to your life. 🙂

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