- October 21, 2022
Slow Down, You’re Here, the seventh and latest novel by the Wellington writer and lawyer Brannavan Gnanalingam, is packed with the stuff of life. That stuff is mostly work — of parents, of people of colour and of marriage.
The story, set in post-COVID lockdown Auckland, introduces us to Vishal and Kavita, who are barely getting by while raising their two children, four-year-old Aarani and two-year-old Bhavan, in a cramped Onehunga rental. Vishal, who was laid off from his marketing job, drives taxis but is not having much luck with it. If he’s not at the mercy of inebriated Englishmen soiling his car, he’s making honest mistakes and losing coin to passengers who can definitely spare a few extra dollars for fares. Kavita works in accounts and is the family’s main breadwinner, all the while carrying the household with little help from her husband.
While Vishal, tired and dejected, sleeps off his late-night indignities, Kavita is on the go, doing the washing, defrosting chicken for dinner and minding the children. She wants to wake Vishal up so he can help her. ‘One thing at a time,’ she reminds herself, but judging by how difficult it is for either of them to get a full night’s sleep or make a coffee, it’s everything all at once. Their lives are about some things (the same things, day in day out) and not others: the lot of parents.
Needless to say, Vishal and Kavita harbour frustrations with each other — frustrations that, combined with stress, exhaustion and an unequitable division of labour, have bred resentment. Vishal brings the washing in but doesn’t fold it. Kavita seethes. Love is attention, and in this house, attention is divided.
Along comes Ashwin, Kavita’s old flame from university, who invites her to a week away with him on Waiheke Island. Kavita, feeling unloved and unappreciated, accepts.
The novel cycles through the points of view of four characters — Vishal, Kavita, Ashwin and Aarani. We get the meat: feelings, emotions, neuroses, motivations and fears. There is Kavita, guilty at hiding her trip with Ashwin from her husband, who still hopes Vishal will show up for her: