Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Temple-Goers

Title: The Temple-Goers
Author: Aatish Taseer
Penguin/Viking, to be released March 2010

This debuting author has been called the Indian Bret Easton Ellis, which does indeed point you in the right direction. However, expect more Less Than Zero than American Psycho. The setting is Delhi and the main character a young man returning from studies abroad to a life of wealth and leisure. However, lack of any real challenge in life, has left him alienated and slightly numbed. As he tries to create meaning for himself, by structuring his daily schedule, a second character, a foil, emerges.

Aakash is his personal trainer and the initial description of him is high comedy. But this flamboyant, even clownish, persona turns sinister as cracks in the facade reveals a rage that lashes out at potential adversaries. The two central characters and their strange relationship is the true value of this reading experience. The female lead is far from as well drawn, and the city, Delhi reveals herself in glimpses but does not come alive as I think she was meant to.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Children's Book

Title: The Children's Book
Author: A.S. Byatt
Vintage, 2010 (2009)

I usually think 600-page books are too long, but although this one could have been dieted down a bit, there actually is a certain point to its heft. It reflects the time and the characters of the work in a rather interesting way: the laborious ornamentation of the fin-de-siècle and the soon-to-be-pointless artfulness and intellectualism of the grown-ups.

The story takes place from 1895-1919 and centers on a group of families bound together by their political ideas (Fabianism mainly) and family ties . But for all the beautiful and worthy principles they claim in theory, in practise thay are self-involved and narcissistic. The children bear the legacy and the Great War serves as a narrative full stop to all the fine ideas. What is left is something like distilled humanity.

Byatt makes the turn of the century feel close enough too lick, and the characters are both interesting and engaging. The first half is the sharper one though, as the story-telling becomes somewhat blue-eyed towards the end. How many women really do become pregnant the first time they have sex? I admit it is a good trick to put a spin on a story, but you are only allowed to use it once per novel, I think.