Book: Goodbye Freddie Mercury
Author: Nadia Akbar
Publisher: Penguin (An imprint of Hamish Hamilton)
Price: Rs 599
Over the last two years, I have noticed that you can judge a book by its cover…and title. Most of the books I have loved and been bowled over by have amazing covers, and quirky or headstrong titles. And here the author brings personal love for Queen (as a listener and RJ) in such bucket loads that kitsch is the new cool. This book fulfills all the criteria, and there is still a lot to say about it. I will try as succinctly as possible.
Nadia Akbar’s debut attempt is balanced on the shoulders of two narrators, one a privileged and disenchanted army son, RJ Bugsy, who is dealing with the accompanying pressures of being a scion in Pakistan, especially its extravagant, upper layer of its crème de la crème society. The other is a college student and daughter, Nida, of a middle-class family who is perpetual mourning of the loss of their only ‘good’ son, who wants to see the other side of the walled city of Lahore and pays the entry price willingly.
Both have their own seemingly inane takes on life (as do their clique) and yet they slice through the fog of an unending orgy (can hardly be called a party if most relationships are more exploitative and less consensual) fueled by drugs, alcohol and sex, that could have been situated anywhere in the world but is properly entrenched in this walled corrupt palaces of dusty Lahore, by order author Akbar and her desi narrative, liberally peppered with Pakistani slang like fundo (meaning okay) that you will learn over the course of this book.
The story shows the uneasy balance of the Pakistani society today, even the ‘upper class’ that seem to have it all sorted. They are strongly tethered to the family and tradition they have been born into, like most of the main characters, and yet they fill their days and nights with aspirational smog that, you can pretend is your second skin but, always actually stays outside your system. The title is a lovely allusion to this overt hypocrisy and the moral disregard- not only decay — that seals the deal of the characters that inhabit it.
The plot loses pace and strength when nearing the end, as if losing its nerve. From its first-person tone, the book is a straight speaker with boastful, unfiltered desi version being the norm. It could have been witty and good many other things, but it would have lost some of its distinct character. On its own, ‘Goodbye…’ is a brew so strong that it leaves you feeling quite light-headed and yet you want to host that cloud in your head for a long, long time, knowing full well that it is an unhealthy addiction. But still…