Thursday, 4 January 2007

Booker Prize 2006: The Inheritance of Loss

Being the nerd that I am - the one thing I specifically requested for Christmas was the entire short-list of the 2006 Booker Prize. Now I have decided to bless you all with my thorough review and appraisal of each work blah blah blah.. Basically I'm going to tell you which ones sucked and which one should have won. I'll post them all in individual entries, :)

First off the winner - Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss. You have to know that I was so prepared to fall in love with this book. I fawned over it in bookshops, re-read the back a million times, looked up reviews on the internet and drooled over the cover art. I scoffed at negative comments on the Booker Prize forums (yes, I know - nerd), certain that those people just didn't understand/had no taste/were clearly stupid. I was so excited when I got it - so certain was I that this would be my new favourite book of all time - to be read and reread and recommended. I couldn't wait for it to suddenly "break(s) out into extraordinary beauty" like the Times review on the back cover promised.

What I'm really trying to establish here is just how high my expectations of The Inheritance of Loss were - so you can understand just how massive my disappointment was when I read this book.

There are a number of reasons why this book just didn't live up to the hype- but for me the most important one was the characters. Basically, Desai failed to make me care about them. I think this has a lot to do with the way she structured the story. There are four main characters - A retired judge, his orphaned grand-daughter Sai , the judges cook/servant man and the cook's son Biju. The Judge, Sai and the cook all live together in Northern India near Nepal, while Biju lives in New York. The book switches between India and New York and while there are links made between the sections - with Biju returning to India at the end, I felt that they were tenuous at best. One of the central premises of the book is the love story between Sai - the grand-daughter - and her tutor Gyan. It's supposed to be this tragic story of love destroyed by politics blah blah blah. Desai opens the book at the point where their romance begins to fail and then backtracks. However her attempts to fill in the back-story fail to establish their relationship properly, and as such I really didn't give a shit whether or not their relationship worked, because I had no emotional investment in it.

Desai's much applauded 'poetic language' also failed to grab me. There are some nice lines, interesting images, but overall she lacks the verbal inventiveness of authors like Proux and Ondaatje. I found many of her sentances hard to follow, and would often get bored by an image halfway through her description of it.

Mainly, Desai seems to struggle with the scale of the book, as though she couldn't decide if it should be a tale of Indians in India, or immigrants abroad, whether it would be a family saga or a political/social novel. Where authors like Ondaatje and Roy succeed in combining the personal and the political, Desai resolutely fails.

One other small, really anal, issue I have with this book is probably no fault of Desai's, but I have to air it anyway. The first few words of every chapter are italicised. This would be okay, except that there is no logic or pattern to it. In some chapters the first two words are italicised, in others it's the whole first sentance, sometimes only the words up to the first comma are italicised, sometimes half of the sentance is. At first I didn't notice, but by the end of the book it was driving me CRAZY. Just be warned.