I usually have soundbite responses on finishing a book, before I go away for a while and think of all the detailed reasons why I hate it. This time, the soundbite was:
HOW THE FUCK DID THIS WIN A (man) BOOKER PRIZE.
And my face was like this: D:
Balram Halwai is a gross, disgusting animal. Not because he murdered someone, not because he robbed someone, not because he bribes policemen to run his business. He's a gross, disgusting animal because he loves no one. He doesn't love his family, his employers, his country or himself. I kept waiting for the character-saving love interest to enter the scene, but no dice. If he'd even loved Pinky Madam I would have been happy. Ergo, I've come to the conclusion that love is the one thing that separates human from beast. This is not just a theory, it's a fact; psychopaths have no capacity for emotion and don't understand the bonds of love and affection that spring up between others. So, I guess Adiga won the Booker for accurately presenting a low-key, softly ambitious psychopath as his main character.
The actual writing is fairly humdrum. It reminded me of Khalad Hosseini's, and not in a good way. I am not saying that people shouldn't write stories based on the terrible things that happen in countries like India and Afghanistan. I am saying that it's easy to tug the heartstrings and shock the soul of your readers simply by ripping off what you hear in the streets and read in the papers of these countries. I have far more admiration for writers who can tell me about middle-class privileged boring civil servants, because it's a lot harder to wring empathy and interest out of them. Also? If I ever go to India and discover a working electric light, I'll probably die of shock.
The climax of the story was a let-down, too. The actual murder and robbery was entirely un-fraught with either danger or suspense. Also, by that point I hated Balram so much I wished he'd be caught. And all of that to set up a taxi business? Wow. Colour me impressed.
In fact, the most disturbing thing in the story was the adoration the characters felt for China. Of all places: human rights infringements left right and centre, produces more pollution than even the United States, everyone smokes, and is COMMUNIST. HELLO. I actually keep hoping that at one or all of these aspects of China will get an international smackdown sooner rather than later. The idea that China is a country to emulate actually frightens me.
Only three nations have never let themselves be ruled by foreigners: China, Afghanistan and Abyssinia. These are the only three nations I admire.
Abyssinia? As in Ethiopia, Abyssina? As in the country that, on a world map, has a huge red 'FAIL' stamp on it, Abssyinia? As in the reason Bob Geldof can keep dining out on We Don't Like Mondays because he came up with a cute line abouut making poverty history, Abyssinia? THAT Abyssinia?
See, he began every day by bowing in front of at least twenty pictures of various gods he kept in his side of the room, and saying 'Om, om, om.' As he did this, he looked at me through the corner of his eye, as if to say, Don't you pray? What are you, a Naxal?
Yeah, I just thought that was funny. Praying as proof you're not a terrorist!
Who would have thought, Mr Jiabao, that of this whole family, the lady with the short skirts would be the one with a conscience?
WHAT. No really, WHAT? THE LENGTH OF HER SKIRTS HAS WHAT TO DO WITH HER CONSCIENCE? Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaate.
If you taught every poor boy how to paint, that would be the ned of the rich in India.
I can make no judgement on whether a society without rich people would work (hi, Communism fail!). However, it's certainly a point of view, and I appreciate the way he's trying to put art up there on a level with politics and economics and science and, I don't know, quadratic equations. I have just one question about this social theory, the application of:
WHAT ABOUT THE FUCKING POOR GIRLS?
Previously, on Book Glomp 2009:
He Knew He Was Right, Anthony Trollope
The Bostonians, Henry James
For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
For Esme - with Love and Squalor, JD Salinger
The Outsider, Albert Camus
The Princess Diaries: Ten out of Ten, Meg Cabot
The Vicar of Bullhampton, Anthony Trollope
Molesworth, Geoffrey Willans
Villette, Charlotte Bronte
The Portrait of a Lady, Henry James
The Way of All Flesh, Samuel Butler
Cecilia, Fanny Burney
The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark
Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut
Valley of the Dolls, Jacqueline Susann
Siddhartha, Herman Hesse