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HomeBooks and LiteratureSheena Patel’s thrilling debut I’m a Fan throws readers headlong into a...

Sheena Patel’s thrilling debut I’m a Fan throws readers headlong into a world of toxic relationships

I’m a Fan

Sheena Patel

Granta Books

204 pages

Rs 599

The unnamed protagonist of Sheena Patel’s debut novel I’m a Fan is someone who loves hate-scrolling the woman she’s obsessed with and stalks the man who she wants to be with. And that’s how, and in these many words, these principal characters are referred to throughout the book.

It begins with a rather provocative first sentence: “I stalk a woman on the internet who is sleeping with the same man as I am.” Not only does it signal certain character traits of the narrator but also helps underline the nature of their relationships, making readers restless consumers and part of gossip culture.

But that’s not the only thing that makes this book a page-turner. It’s also because the text is presented in a manner that it appears like one is reading someone’s Instagram posts. While some of them drive the story forward, others are full of thoughtful observations and catty commentary on the times we live in — chapter titles don’t follow capitalisation, mirroring the abandon with which people post online.

However, this isn’t to say that the book is aesthetic-driven in the way social media platforms are. Winner of the Book of the Year: Discover Award at the British Book Award, which “aims to amplify underrepresented voices,” Patel is a careful writer. Each sentence in this book stays true to its setting and characters. The first-person narration makes it deeply relatable and its no-holds-barred attempt at making the invisible cracks of neoliberal patriarchy, racism, and several other matrices of privilege visible is laudable.

Sample this, “How do you know how to elevate your life to art, something to be admired, envied, aspired to? Aren’t these wealthy aesthetes on Instagram merely another iteration of a class elite deciding what is good and what is not good, shaping our reality the way they always have, just better disguised by technology which has the optics of transparency and democracy?”

The incisiveness of its tone is not at odds with its entertainment value. For example, the woman the narrator is obsessed with is worshipped by her followers to the tune that everything that she posts is considered art: “I usually hate farts but when you do them, my god, so floral and unusual!”

These remarks, however, don’t come unnaturally as the story progresses. They are triggered by one or the other experiences of its protagonist, who has an unhealthy relationship with people around her and her phone device for a variety of reasons. Additionally, as the language is employed in a manner that it elicits either a response or reaction, depending on one’s relation and comfort with being called out, the reader can’t help but become an active part of its messy world. Like one’s followers on social media.

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Then there’s this desire to be with “the one”— the man she wants to be with — that creates situations in the narrator’s life that keep the story lively. Though the protagonist does discover that her love interest is cheating on her and others, too, the man she wants to be with “likes being seen with [her] in public”, which means “he enjoys what [her] skin colour says about him to other people”.

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It marks a moment in the book. It reflects how this commonplace desire to secure social capital both online and offline feeds off each other. It’s all about perception management because it’s the image ultimately that, when threatened, cannot be rebuilt. It takes away everything with it, and the privileged know this, which is why the woman the protagonist is obsessed with “surreptitiously deletes anyone who questions the cultural appropriation of her espousing other cultures like it’s her own” and why her love interest enjoys being seen but can’t see them together.

This and more such critical insights help the novel secure a unique place in fiction writing. Patel deserves all the praise that’s coming her way.

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Saurabh Sharma (they/them) is a Delhi-based writer and freelance journalist

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