If covers could sell books, Jyotin Goel’s two books in the Sept-Opus series, with their arresting, blue-green-aqua-undersea-wow covers by illustrator Rajiv Eipe, would have been swimming rapidly to the top of bestseller lists, and never mind the story inside. Unfortunately – reality check – covers don’t sell books. But a great cover does serve one vital function – it makes the casual browser reach for the book and give the blurb a more-than-cursory glance.
And then? And then, if the book was Sept-Opus and the Secret of Captain Kidd’s Cove, and the browser was a punctuation Nazi who judged books on the basis of their blurbs, it is likely that she would simply place the book back on the shelf and move on. Consider this – in red, bold letters of a large point-size, the highlighted part of the blurb reads thus: “Rot8, the superhero octopus, is back and some nasty jewel thieves who have hidden their loot at the Goa Sea World better watch out!” That’s right. Two commas only. Also, spoiler much?
The three paras that follow, providing a synopsis of the story, aren’t much better. The second para, for instance, reads: “A horrible gang of jewel thieves is prowling around the Sea World. Then Ms Noriko, their Japanese lobster teacher, goes missing. (whose teacher? The thieves’? You could be forgiven for thinking so, but that is not the case.) Plus, “Japanese lobster teacher” is very clumsy, if not vaguely wrong. Then there is the use of the word “Then”, which is actually wrong, for reasons which I cannot explain well (something to do with cause and consequence and chronological sequencing), but I know in my grammar-Nazi gut to be true.
Of course none of this is a reflection on the author – blurbs are not (often) written by authors. The reason I am going on and on about the blurb is because, oftentimes, an interesting blurb is all it takes to persuade a reader to put good money down for a book. And because Jyotin Goel’s fun, action-packed story of Rot8, the superhero octopus-with-seven-and-a-half-tentacles, and a supporting cast of mad human and marine characters, deserved a better one.
But that’s enough about that – on to the story! First off, just who are these undersea and oversea wackos in the book? Apart from the “Japanese lobster teacher” who gives lessons on how to “rive to a ripe ord age” (she is Japanese, so there is the L and R spoonerism going on), there is Pelli-dada, the Bangladeshi pelican who makes the annual trip to Tamil Nadu because it is “good phor phissing” (only this time he took a wrong turn “shome bhere” and ended up a thousand miles away in Goa). There are also, from the first Sept-Opus book, old familiars like the “h’een-credi-bull” South Indian scientist Dr Zubbu Zwami , who gave Rot8 his Double-o-Seven-esque “prosthetic tentacle” (which is not a tentacle at all but a set of fancy tools – fork, flashlight, racquet, sword, spanner, radio, even pepper spray! – that Rot can clip on to his half-limb), his boss Dr Reena Renaldo, and of course the annoying Irrit8, Pyr8, and Po8 (small digression here for a question that refuses to go away: why did the author name this particular octopus Po8, which is not really a word in English, unlike Irrit8, Pyr8, and Rot8? Why not some other prefix, like Prestidigit, Medit, Levit, Imit, Mut, Est…?).
The plot of Sept-Opus 2 essentially revolves around a jewel heist. The innovative (human) thieves hit upon the brilliant idea of concealing their loot among the fake gems spilling out of the treasure chest in one of the marine exhibits – an underwater mock-up of Captain Kidd’s Cove – at Goa’s Sea World, where our superhero and his friends live. When the gang sends their scuba diver to retrieve their gems, however, they discover to their horror that the exhibit is being temporarily moved somewhere else! A bunch of wild, sometimes hilarious, shenanigans ensue, involving animals, humans, motorbikes, pirates, skeletons and ghosts, at the end of which everything is resolved to everyone’s (except the crooks’) happiness.
Jyotin Goel’s prose is crisp, smart and funny, and his skilful sliding in of information, whether about starfish behaviour or pelican migratory routes or, well, Goan laid-backness (the hapless but very lovable Claude Custado is a hoot!), is commendable, but the plot itself is often muddied by too many side-stories. Personally, too, I thought that all the accents (Japanese, Bengali, Tamilian, Goan, starfish, and “Junior-Super lisp”) and accent-based stereotype humour, much of which young readers will not get, were too many for such a small book, and became tedious after a point, derailing the flow of the story and therefore messing with reader enjoyment.
The author’s bio informs us that Goel’s day job is being a television and feature film writer and director, which probably explains the non-stop action, the several sub-plots in play, and all the accents, but what works on screen doesn’t always work in a book, especially when you have to read, rather than hear, “Youaaoo diaid gooado, gaizoo.”
Still, Sept-Opus 2 is a fun romp. Buy both books in the series and gift them to a nine-year-old you know.
By Arundhati Roshan B
Author: Jyotin Goel
Illustrator: Rajiv Eipe
Rupa Publications, 2015
Subject Category: Contemporary/Fiction