As Sweet as Honey by Indira Ganesan is a novel set on an island in the Indian Ocean, focusing on the story of Meterling who falls in love with an Englishman. Beautifully written, the prose reads almost like poetry—evocative, delicate, and even elegant. Through the protagonist, the conflict between colonialism and nationalism are explored although not fully realized.
The novel is divided into three parts. All three are told through Meterling’s niece Mina. However, the second part can only be imagined by Mina because she is not immediately present for this part of Meterling’s story and it is this part that gives way to magical realism. However, this is not used to especially good effect. The end result feels more manipulative than narratively necessary. Certainly, this novel is not nearly as magical as Roy’s The God of Small Things. Absolutely not as politically provocative as Roy’s War Talk. Except for Meterling, we never come to know any of the other characters and even what we know about her is open to debate because the reader never knows if Mina’s descriptions are actual or her own interpretation. Perhaps that is Ganesan’s intention, to use the unreliable narrator to cause the reader to question everything.
I wanted to read this novel because, according to the description, the author is “likened to Arundhati Roy” (hence, my comparing Ganasen’s writing to Roy’s) so I expected to especially like this one. Unfortunately, I don’t anticipate that I’ll remember much about this novel a year from now. None of the characters were interesting enough to be truly memorable. This is one of those books I wanted to love but barely even liked. If not for the elegance of the prose, I’d not commend it at all.