Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Apparently, in my review in OUTLOOK MAGAZINE of THE ELEPHANTA SUITE I managed to suggest that I didn't like the book. I'm not sure why this this happens -- this isn't the first time -- maybe because I prefer to use up my 300 words giving a reader a sense of what the book's about rather than how much I liked or disliked it.

Anyway -- just in case it isn't clear -- I DID like the book. Quite a bit. I've already bought my first give-away copy and plan several more and my house copy is "travelling".

The three long short stories ("novellas"? Am never very sure when a short story becomes a novella. I would call these short stories) that make up the book certainly aren't cute and cuddly. Each story involves American characters interacting with Indians, in India. Neither culture is presented with its best foot forward. The overwhelming characteristic that comes through is greed -- interlocking neatly in some ways, and then, disastrously NOT.

What I always like about Theroux's prose is the clinical precision of his observations. He uses his characters like the subjects of a dissection, aimed at exposing one or two obscure glands, while he describes the ethos that surrounds the operation with a casual, throwaway flair. Ultimately, however, the "story" is secondary to the descriptions.

The picturesque India of tourist brochures is almost wholly obscured behind the maelstrom of crowds/dirt/beggars that assaults the senses of visitors from quieter, cooler climes. Many Indians regard this view of India as false and "colonial" (the epithet that Indian reviewers hurl at any foreign author who is less than enchanted by the subcontinent). I would call it "unsentimental" rather than colonial. Theroux's is the ultimate unsentimental gaze -- he reports on emotions without drowning in them -- and I thank him for his cool detachment.

Go on -- buy the book -- read it -- and pass it on. Especially to anyone planning a trip in this direction ...

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