I have been so lazy about reviewing books this fall that I have been suffering from that snowballing despair that comes from the ever-increasing impossibility of Catching Up. So, rather than try to go back and account for all the books I’ve been reading but not writing about, I plucked three off the Recently Read shelf and decided to just do those, for now. I had hoped this small gesture would make me feel at least a little accomplished. It hasn’t really. Oh well.
I picked this novel up because, for years, I’ve been idly tossing around an idea for a course in “racial ambiguity” that looks at figures of mixed race in literature and culture. This debut novel follows its half Indian, half white protagonist through the various identities he inhabits in his trajectory through various scenes of British colonialism. Kunzru’s real narrative gift is his humor; the first and second sections of this novel are written with a cocky, satirical aplomb reminiscent of Henry Fielding (whom I happened to be reading at the same time—still, I think the comparison holds). After these sections come to an end, not even halfway through the book, the humor wanes and so does the story’s allure. I think Kunzru could have learned a lesson from the master, Fielding: that one of the benefits of having a shape-shifting protagonist is that he can serve as a foil to set off the more captivating maneuvers of an intelligent narrator. As the novel becomes more intent on “developing” the characters, the narrator fades, which is very disappointing.
Nevertheless, I look forward to reading more of Kunzru’s work in the future.
Aimee Bender writes my favorite kind of prose: quiet, weird, almost hilarious but held back by a pervasive melancholy, an almost-violence, something lost or lonely trying to come to words. I loved these stories, especially “Skinless” and “The Healer.”
I bought this book after seeing Jane Campion’s film adaptation, which is wonderful. The book is even more captivating. Reading it, I had the uncanny feeling that it was told in the voice that runs through my own head—a voice unusually attentive to the words people use, that appear in ads and on walls and on pages and that seem to hover like poetry, waiting to be understood—a voice that is therefore strangely detached from the other aspects of living, even when fully, physically embroiled in them. Moore’s narrator seems to know that she is a character in a text; even the erotic heights reached in this novel (the hottest I’ve read all year) and physical terror are felt as linguistic experiences, which only sharpens the edges of their sensuality.
That’s what I’ve got for now. Must grade papers today. Must drink coffee and eat something and grade papers.