The nine perspectives on the woman at the heart of this novel are tightly framed, and show how people perceive what they want to see in a relationship. However, these vignettes told from the perspective of people who have ‘loved’ the woman fall back on several tropes and fail to deliver any deep insight into human relationships or the characters.
The blurb on the back of this book promises incomplete but illuminating slivers of a woman; shards that we can piece together and reflect on ‘how sometimes we tend to become what others perceive us to be’. The inner monologue of the narrators is stylishly written, and the backdrops for the many fleeting encounters are enchanting. However, the beauty in the writing and in the characters, is strictly superficial – by appealing to romantic fantasies, the author tries to cover up the internalised misogyny and self-centred actions. The abandonment issues of the central woman are similarly written in with a heavy hand, yet remain unexplored in any meaningful way.
The sad takeaway from this book is that the author has romanticized some rather selfish, unhealthy and even lurid characters, none of whom see the central woman as much more than a vessel for their version of the manic pixie dream girl. The woman herself is equally selfish, and doesn’t share the intimacies which build relationships with her lovers. Applying for studies abroad without even mentioning it to the man who seems to be providing her a place to stay is particularly telling of her callousness. Worse yet is that she accepts all manner of mistreatment so long as her beauty or generosity in loving is praised. Thus, she buys into the shallow notions of who she should be, and in return emotionally abuses partner after partner while we are meant to feel sorry for her.
The Nine-Chambered Heart delivers to us a sexually liberated yet immature woman, whose life is filled with a cast of convenient caricatures. The delusional view of their fights and lusts as being beautiful or grand makes for painful reading.