This book is said to be the face of Avant Gardë
literature in Tamil. In the preface to the Malayalam translation, the famous writer Zacharia heaps praise on the novel. He says Malayalam writers are all stuck in the Romantic rut while Tamil literature has forged ahead, with a novel like Zero Degree
which breaks all conventions.
In that, he is right. Charu Nivedita has thrown off all conventional restraints in the creation of this "anti-novel": a mix of narrative, poetry, doodles and sheer absurdity. It is supposedly written to an unknown woman reader, who may be doing any number of things (including getting raped or giving birth) at the time of its composition. The author says it is gleaned from the notes of the writers Surya, Muniyandi and Mishra: however, he immediately confesses that he has taken a rather broad license with the editing of the same - adding and omitting things at will. He also says his method of translation of Hindi is that of the village idiot Koti Kuppan, who answers all questions with translations of rhyming words from English to Tamil, bearing no relation to the original question.
This most unreliable of narrators then goes on to drown the unsuspecting reader in a mix of pain, death, sex, sadism and defecation. The chapters - many a time not following any syntactic rules or punctuation - are a disjointed mix of crimes against women, scenes of cruel torture, unbelievably monstrous sex (a mythical character from the ninth century moves around with a penis many metres long, looking for a vagina deep enough to receive it!) and people shouting lurid cusswords at one another. Towards the end, some sort of story develops, however. Surya marries a battered woman called Avantika, and the novel is in part her story, written in the form of a letter by Surya to his estranged daughter Genesis.
This is no doubt a very serious work of art lovingly composed by the author; however, I find that I cannot rate it. The story failed to touch me at all. All those descriptions of sex and torture were disturbing at first, but the palate grew jaded very fast as the novel progressed. I do not know whether it is a problem with the translation - maybe the novel would be more powerful in the original Tamil. Or maybe, it was just not written for me: I was in way too deep.
If you like a challenge, do read it. Fortunately, an English translation is available for those who do not know Tamil or Malayalam.