The Runaway, Umair Naeem’s long-awaited second novel, gives us a peek in the lives of four characters from seemingly different paths of life, as their worlds collide. While Nilofer struggles to be freed from the bonds of an unhealthy relationship, Kashan punishes himself for losing his wife and child. Sarmad on the other hand, is on the path of vengeance while Falak Sher wants to conquer the world with the power of fear and chaos.
Naeem attempts to underscore the complications within human relationships. More often than once, characters are faced with dilemmas when people they had set opinions about, presented them with different angles of their personalities. The writer touches a variety of subjects in the narrative, forgetting all about some of them midway, leaving a bunch of unanswered questions in the reader’s mind. Why bring philosophy into the story and then abandon it? Why bring the question of religiosity into a story and leave it unanswered? Why do some of the characters just disappear? Some copyediting would have made the book a much more enjoyable experience.
It can be said that only half the pleasure one finds in a book has to do with the story being told, the other half lies in the manner in which it unfolds; the flow of the tale has to complement the journey a reader undertakes. If a book is formatted in a manner that confuses the reader, they will not be fully engrossed in the narrative. Sadly, Naeem’s latest venture is one such book. It may have become a hooking page-turner had it been properly formatted. The untimely paragraph breaks in the book leave the reader taken aback, only to later reveal that the rude interruption was for naught as the narrative picks up exactly where it left off. While on the subject of stylistics, another thing to be noted is the ghastly number of spelling and grammatical errors that continuously catch the reader’s eye. A few of these are easy enough to forgive but when the number crosses into double digits, the reader tends to become less forgiving.
Despite the flaws, Naeem’s depiction of Karachi needs to be praised. His description of the city and the people that live in it is quite close to reality. Seasoned Pakistani writers have had trouble panning out a realistic impression of the city for their readers; the attempts often portraying their lack of knowledge and their own snobbery. Naeem’s take on Karachi, on the other hand, is one any Karachiite would be able to associate with. This in-depth understanding paired with a mildly thrilling storyline may as well be the book’s saving grace.
All in all if one was to turn a blind eye towards the flaws in the book, the tale it tells may leave a lasting impression on some. If not that, then at least there will be plenty of unanswered questions to occupy one’s mind.
Title: The Runaway
Author: Umair Naeem
Publisher: Prakash Books
The writer is a subeditor at The Express Tribune. She tweets @bhandprogramme
Published in The Express Tribune, February 28th, 2016.