In Reviews

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul, published in May 2017 by Picador.

Scaachi Koul – pronounced with a silent first ‘c’ (or rather, not pronounced) – is a bit of a phenomenon. Let’s start with her seriously cool (sic) and unpronounceable name. So that’s Scaachi as in Saatchi, like the ad agency or art collection then. Glad we’ve got that sorted. And then there’s that title – often reduced to its initials, O.D.W.A.B.D.A.N.O.T.W.M, which indeed appears on the book’s title page. The cover’s edit of it is yet cuter. This is a book and writer with chutzpah – or whatever the Kashmiri equivalent of chutzpah is…

Moving on to her writing, which is the closest you’ll get to millennial-literary-hilarious that you can find anywhere on the planet. If that’s a thing – and if it isn’t, it should be. I met Scaachi Koul because I asked her to sign a copy of O.D.W.A.B.D.A.N.O.T.W.M at last year’s Open Book festival – it was to be a birthday gift for my sister. In it she wrote: “Sarah! Happy birthday! Be nice to your brother, but not too nice.” This is classic Scaachi Koul – at once warm and loving, and then she scythes it out from under you.

Her relationship with her father – which is one of the central themes of this delightful collection of essays – is a case in point. Clearly they love each other dearly, but there are moments of tension, as her delightful email exchanges with him, dropped explosively between chapters, demonstrate. Here is one, verbatim:

Papa, November 30, 2012

You act like I did nothing for you

like you were raised by wolves.

Scaachi, November 30, 2012

When’s my birthday?

Papa, November 30, 2012

I don’t need to answer that.

Koul specialises in bizarre juxtapositions of the existential – racism, hairism (also a thing), fear of flying, seriously abusive social media trolling – with the hilarious. This disarms the reader at every turn of her elegant prose. Did I mention she can write? She more than can. Some examples of the humour, of which there is plenty… Why does she call her long-suffering boyfriend Hamhock? Apart from a deeply obscure reference to Lego, we are never told… And then there’s her father’s deeply dark phone conversation closers, like: “Anyway, I’ll be here. Staring into the abyss.”

Ultimately, Scaachi Koul’s take on life is all types of real – surreal, unreal, hyper-real but, mostly, just charmingly, wittily, often heart-wrenchingly, completely recognisably real. She is a voice you need to hear, to read, to understand and rejoice at. Go do so before the abyss gets you.

Recommended Posts