How irritating it is to be wrong! Well not wrong exactly because, truthfully, I didn’t have an opinion of the book (not having read it until now), just an irrational dislike for the author and for the massive hype that surrounded this Booker Prize winner, that prevented me for many years from reading it 😛 Silly I know – but I can get like that sometimes! So sue me 😉
Now that I have read it – I see that I was wrong. It is a book worth reading because of Roy’s unique writing style. John Updike mentions in the New Yorker, “A novel of real ambition must invent its own language, and this one does…” I couldn’t agree more. Her staccato, clipped narration; her nouvelle word combinations that convey tantalizingly precise meanings otherwise elusive in the English language; her usage of local lingo at opportune moments; her accented dialogues and decisive use of punctuation, her new descriptions of old thoughts and emotions; and the portrayal of her characters mindsets – accurate and incisive; all make this a fascinating if rather difficult read.
Difficult in the way a loaded gun might be difficult if you’ve never handled one before! Weighted but reassuring when you’re ready or heavy and awkward when you’re not. If you’re up for it – this is a good read. The story is dark (another hallmark of Booker Winners!), yet the telling has a tragicomic feel to it, with the dark humour, the witty descriptions, the sly implications, and the foregone conclusions all colluding to produce a constant sinister undercurrent to the obvious fairly straightforward storyline. All through the reading you get a sense of impending doom and yet you cannot but keep reading, so unlike The Inheritance of Loss which for me had no redeeming factors at all!
I cannot help compare Roy’s work with Anita Nair’s, only because they both write so convincingly and sensually of Kerala, but where Nair is gentle and tender in her tone, Roy is often brutal and unforgiving and raw. There were no real surprises in the storyline for me – I solved the little hints that are planted throughout the narrative as to emotions, thoughts and plots rather well and so will most readers. It’s not a whodunit after all, but what sets it apart is once again the ‘way in which it is told’. The manner is what lends it a certain exotic appeal & mystique and I can only assume it is that which won it the Booker. Well, lesser works have won for flimsier reasons I dare say 😛 But I understand the win now and I think it deserving inasmuch as my opinion counts 😉 certainly more deserving than The Inheritance of Loss, although I do so hate comparing 😉
I should have read this one much earlier but I’m glad I finally did. A major crib though is the book cover! Surely they could have found a more attractive cover for a book with such an enticing title? I have taken better pictures then this one! The lacklustre grey-green of the lotus pond makes for a dull and entirely inappropriate cover, given that this book is so vividly alive! If it has a covert symbolism, I confess I have missed it entirely. I hope they change it in future editions!
On the whole – a very satisfying read and a mountain climbed! I’m feeling very proud of myself 😛
Here is an excerpt from early on in the book, written in Roy’s signature style;
“It had been quiet in Estha’s head until Rahel came. But with her she had brought the sound of passing trains, and the light and shade that falls on you if you have a window seat. The world, locked out for years, suddenly flooded in, and now Estha couldn’t hear himself for the noise. Trains. Traffic. Music. The Stock Market. A dam had burst and savage waters swept everything up in a swirling. Comets, violins, parades, loneliness, clouds, beards, bigots, lists, flags, earthquakes, despair were all swept up in a scrambled swirling.”
And here is another,
“Edges, Borders, Boundaries, Brinks and Limits have appeared like a team of trolls on their separate horizons. Short creatures with long shadows, patrolling the Blurry End. Gentle half-moons have gathered under their eyes and they are as old as Ammu was when she died. Thirty-one. Not old. Not young. But a viable die-able age.”
“Twin millstones and their mother. Numb millstones. What they had done would return to empty them. But that would be Later. Lay Ter. A deep-sounding bell in a mossy well. Shivery and furred ike moth’s feet. At the time, there would only be incoherence. As though meaning had slunk out of things and left them fragmented. Disconnected. The glint of Ammu’s needle. The colour of a ribbon. The weave of the cross-stitch counterpane. A door slowly breaking. Isolated things that didn’t mean anything. As though the intelligence that decodes life’s hidden patterns – that connects reflections to images, glints to light, weaves to fabrics, needles to thread, walls to rooms, love to fear to anger to remorse – was suddenly lost.”
And finally perhaps my favourite, a wonderful description of a ‘Great Story’!
“It didn’t matter that the story had begun, because kathakali discovered long ago that the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t. In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again. That is their mystery and their magic.” Amen!