My brief views on the novels that I read recently
‘A Man Without Qualities’ – Robert Musil: This is a mammoth and an ambitious novel. It is 1100+ pages and is unfinished!! Musil wants to capture both the external and internal worlds. It is a novel which tries, on one hand, to capture the state of affairs of a country with all its attended complexities of class, nationalism and race. On the other hand, it shines light into the deep recess of the hearts of the characters. I have rarely read a novel which is as ambitious a this and no wonder Thomas Mann and others had great regard for Musil.
This is not a novel for those looking for a page turner. The novel has very little in the way of plot and yet Musil brings forth an entire era alive. One of the criticisms of the novel is that it is, “… oversized essay whose comprehensive diagnosis of modernity is rich in thought but poor in plot”. (http://deutscheshaus.as.nyu.edu/object/io_1479224114461.html ) There are a lot of philosophical discussions and so if you are keen on reading the novel be prepared for heavy lifting.
‘Akkarmashi’ – Sharankumar Limbale: This autobiography is also translated as ‘Outcaste’ in English. An extremely honest and uncompromising book which provides us with details of the terrible conditions of the lives of Dalits. The author is ‘Akkarmashi’. Born to a Dalit mother and an upper caste father, he is rejected by both the castes and thus becomes an Akkarmashi or Half-Caste. The author not only talks about his hardship but also about community and the inhuman conditions in which all their lives are lived. It is a searing tale and made more harrowing because it is real and not imagined. You can read more about this book here: Voices from Margins
‘Gachar Gochar’ – Vivek Shanbag: A highly praised book about a dysfunctional family, which depends on the narrator’s uncle for their livelihood. The said uncle being the sole breadwinner for the family. The novel is all about how this fact affects the behaviour of the members of this joint family is explored. The family is one of the most complex structures and the beginning promises to explore this in detail but Shanbag settles for less. The characters inner dilemmas do not leap out and we don’t empathise with anyone. The dynamics of a joint family comes out well in a couple of places. While the book is eminently readable and holds your interest throughout, I feel it could have been a lot better if Vivek Shanbag had not tried to shock us in the end and had dug deeper into his characters and their motivations.
‘Our Kind of Traitor’ – Le Carre: The blurb quoting a review says that the book is part Le Carre and part Hitchcock. Unlike his other books, Le Carre gets us straight into the action from page one itself. It has all the trademarks of Le Carre’s writing: the constant back and forth movement of the story, the secret service tradecraft, interrogations, betrayal and innocent people caught in a complex web of secrets. Somehow the book fails to grip you throughout though there are patches when it is very good. One reason could be that the characters lack the depth you expect in Le Carre’s characters. The novel works decently at the level of a thriller and if you know your Le Carre, this is harsh criticism.