Book Review: ‘Em and The Big Hoom’

May 2, 2012 7:39 am by

The title of Jerry Pinto’s new novel Em and The Big Hoom hints at a children’s adventure story, something to do with avenging pirates and monsters perhaps, except that the tale, based loosely on Pinto’s own life, is far murkier. The drawing on the elegant cover page hints at some of the unravelling that lays within, a profile of a young woman filled with tiny, obsessively drawn circles in no seeming pattern. The image is intriguing enough on its own, but this being one of the first imprints from David Davidar’s new publishing house Aleph, the cover also comes with the exhortations of a couple of award-winning authors (“Profoundly moving,” says Amitav Ghosh).

For the most part, the publishers needn’t have bothered. Pinto, a ubiquitous figure on the Mumbai literary scene, has crafted a neat memoir-disguised-as-novel that plumbs the depressive lows and fleeting highs of someone afflicted with a mental illness. It’s an unnamed narrator who charts the story of his Goan Catholic family of Em his mother, The Big Hoom his father, his sister Susan and himself, in their one-bedroom house in Mahim, as they bear witness to Em’s jagged mood swings. Em looms large over the entire narrative, a cackling, beedi-smoking, tea-slurping protagonist who eats Iodex, doesn’t like to bathe and speaks in maddening half rhymes confounding not only her family but frequently herself.

Like one of Em’s manic depressive moods, the novel swings between a love story, of Em and The Big Hoom in a Bombay of Bombelli’s and epistolary romances, and the debilitating paranoia of Em herself whose violent outbursts severely test the ties of familial duty. Pinto’s nimble hand is strongest in moments of dialogue, particularly when he is crafting the voice of Em as she instructs and intones and embarrasses, jumping from topic to episode to anecdote with no regard for propriety or logic. It’s a tumbling freewheel that you imagine could be deeply enchanting, annoying and revelatory all at once for the family who had to decode and parse it daily. If the novel stumbles, it is perhaps in attempting to be just that—a novel rather than a memoir. There is no particular plot driving the story forward, just the passage of time. As a result, the pace slackens towards the end, dependent—as you realise, just as all their lives were—on what was happening or not happening to Em.

Em and The Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto, Aleph, Rs495. Buy it from

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Comments (6)

  1. siddiqui |

    Em and the big Hoom by pinto is really an eye opener for the present society,there is a need for everyone to aware the people about how various type of psychiatic problem causes problems for the whole family and how to cope with the patients ill rather to develops cracks in the family

  2. jerry you rock!! love you loads !!!! i read your review. it inspired me. hope i become an author like the way your first novel was a great success!!!!

  3. I have just ordered the book. The plot reminds me of many of my loved ones and as I reside in Mumbai for more than 30 years now I can connect to many things.

    I am looking forward to read
    ‘Em and The Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto’.

    Thank you and I have saved your link for my reference.

  4. RS |

    I liked your review of the book very much. I rather liked the book than not, though I find it rather galling to find people gushing about it without remarking on its flaws. As you say, Pinto is best when he is writing dialogue, it reminded me of Arundhati Roy in the beginning. I do agree with the problems that you point out in the book, but also feel that the book, despite being quite dazzling in most parts, is also an exercise in self-pity. My mother has been a mental patient through most of her life, though she has been well for the last few years, by the grace of god. My father passed a few years ago, and times were hard when I was young. The book rang a bell, the love and the hate did, as did the self-pity.

  5. Just finished reading the novel. It kept me spellbound all through. Partly because of the persuasive power of Pinto’s writing and partly because I could empathise with the narrator as I too have a member in the family carrying all the symptoms of Em. Things look normal for a while but then suddenly it erupts with a ferocious intensity bringing in its wake hospitalization, a round of consultations with the psychiatrist, a regimen of medications and keeping one’s fingers crossed.
    Pinto’s portrayal of Em, the wife, the mother, the daughter, the patient, is remarkably live. I must add that her family bears her affliction with great fortitude, with least rancour, with exemplary stoicism, and with humour whenever they could. In real life it is difficult to emulate this kind of behaviour over a long period of time. Someone or the other is bound to crack.
    I can foresee the novel winning a prestigious prize or two. My congratulations in advance.
    Sushil Gupta

  6. Thanks for the review! Ordered a copy from Flipkart just now for Rs. 371. Really look forward to reading it. It seems, a good book has been written on the literary scene after a long time!