Not utmostly impressed so far with Arundhati Roi’s new novel. It’s kind of all over the place and I’m not sure who I, the reader, am supposed to be. Political writing, and I suppose any type of writing, from India has to decide who it is written for. In my opinion, the best writing doesn’t try to be over-accommodating. Sonia Faleiro, for example, in “Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars” didn’t make things at all easy for a non-Indian reader. As a result, there was a lot that I didn’t understand. But that was fine – it was even fine with a British newspaper that declared it to be one of the best books of the year. Roi tries, sometimes in a rather convoluted way to try to explain political issues or historical events, in long boring asides. At other times she goes to extraordinary measures not to mention politicians by name, though it’s perfectly obvious enough who she is talking about. I don’t get it. I can’t imagine that she is keeping anyone happy; either an Indian or well-informed non-Indian reader on the one hand, or a foreigner who knows little about India or its issues.
With regard to the content, I haven’t encountered much that is new to me, though I’m admittedly comparatively well read in her subject matter. What I enjoy most about Indian novels is the story telling. Indians seem to have some kind of innate ability to create interesting characters and tell amazing stories about them. And the best writers, among whom I count Rohinton Mistry and Amitav Ghosh, also know how to weave politics and history into their writing expertly and keenly. In the same way as a Charles Dickens brings 19th century London to life, Mistry can make me feel like I know 20th century Bombay from the inside. Anita Desai and Vikram Seth perform a kind of magic in translating a world that is completely foreign and making me feel at home in it. Reading U. R. Ananthamurthy is almost like encountering an anthropological study, but in a completely enjoyable way. Arundhati Roi seems less sure of herself. Perhaps she is trying too hard. I feel like I need to winnow away some of the chaff in order to get at the grain of what she is trying to tell me.
More later, when I’ve finished the novel.