Audiobook Review: Polite Society by Mahesh Rao

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Beautiful, clever, and very slightly bored, Ania Khurana has Delhi wrapped around her finger. When Ania finds love for her spinster aunt, she realizes her potential as a force for good.
For her next match, Ania sets her sights on Dimple: her newest, sweetest, and, sure, poorest friend. But her good intentions may be misdirected, and when her aunt’s handsome new nephew arrives from America, the social tides in Delhi begin to shift. Surrounded by money old and new, navigating gossip, scheming, and an unforgettable cast of journalists, socialites, gurus, and heirs, Ania discovers that when you aim to please the human heart, things seldom go as planned.
Using Jane Austen’s Emma as a springboard, Polite Society takes us into the lives of a group of characters we never want to part with. Pairing stiletto-sharp observation and social comedy with moments of true tenderness, this delicious romp through the mansions of India’s elite celebrates that there’s no one route to perfect happiness.

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I’ve been on a roll for almost the past year, trying to read as many modern Jane Austen retellings as I can. So when I found that there was a new version of Emma set in Delhi, I just had to get my hands on it.

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Emma is one of those books that’s not easy to like, especially because of our titular character. The retellings which stay close to the original tend to have similar concerns, so I really wanted to see how the author would manage to make me like the story here. I think the author’s decision to set it among the uber rich elite class of Delhi was perfect for this story. The pretentiousness of this group of people really comes through and one can’t help but wonder how far away they are from the country’s reality. The book really feels like a satire and I could enjoy it because of that. The first half of the book does a neat job of establishing the characters, giving us a look into their backgrounds and motivations and the general culture among this crowd. However, it’s the second half where it really faltered for me. We follow many characters and I thought it’ll be fun to see where they all end up, but it felt like the story meandered a lot and we never got any proper resolution to most of the characters’ arcs. The ending felt very abrupt and open ended and I’m not really a fan of those. Another problem I had was that some of the English vocabulary used was completely unfamiliar (with some French words also thrown in the mix) and I found it all a bit tough to follow – it’s totally a me problem and others would probably enjoy it too.

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This book has a huge ensemble cast but I didn’t end up connecting to anyone. No one here is written to be likeable, so that’s not the issue – it’s just that I felt a huge divide between them and myself, so I couldn’t find myself invested in any of their issues. I’m not even a fan of Emma from the original but she manages to redeem herself a bit towards the end, however I didn’t feel the same about Ania. She is a snob and a creature of privilege, always sure that she is doing the right thing and feels herself to be superior to other mere mortals. But I did sympathize with her when some unfortunate incidents happened, but we never see her actually contemplate or learn anything from them so it didn’t make any difference. Even towards the end, I don’t think that she realized any of her faults – just that things didn’t go her way. So, I was pretty disappointed with this missing character development. And that’s the case with most of them in the book. Things just happen to the characters in their life and they move on to something else, but we never really see anyone reflect or try to change or even empathize with others.

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In the end, I thought this was mostly a faithful retelling of Emma (atleast all the characters of Emma’s family and Harriet). It has a well written satirical tone which made the book interesting to read, and I also absolutely adored the narrator Deepti Gupta whose voices for each character was unique and beautiful. But the lack of character development and unresolved arcs left me feeling dissatisfied. If you like desi Jane Austen retellings or previously have enjoyed reading The Windfall by Diksha Basu, you probably will enjoy reading this one too. I also recommend the audiobook because of the wonderful narrator.

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5 thoughts on “Audiobook Review: Polite Society by Mahesh Rao

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  1. It’s always risky taking a classic and redoing it, especially in a different culture. I’m surprised there were French words—is that because the original had them? I know what you mean about what it’s like not having character development, I struggle to enjoy when that happens. It’s like gaps in the story or disjointed writing. Loved your review as always Sahi ♥️♥️♥️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree it’s not easy but it’s also fun… and it definitely depends on the author’s skill… And in this case, the original might have had French words but that’s suitable for the Victorian England time period… in modern Indian context, it’s just rich people showing off 😂😂😂
      Thank you for reading Ahana !!!!!

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I guess it’s just rich Delhi ppl who study French or some other foreign language in their elite private schools and travel across the world showing off 😂😂😂 I mean it suited the story but I don’t like it when I don’t understand words😜😜
          You are my bae too babe ❤️❤️❤️❤️

          Like

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