Last week Mr Books and I went to the movies for the first time this year!
I know! How did that happen? How can our life be so busy that we don’t make time to go the movies anymore? Surely having adult children living at home means less work and running round? And more to time to ourselves?
We will have to find a way to get better at this sharing a house with other (young) adults stuff.
And, of course, I shouldn’t complain. One day they will leave home; one day rents and house prices in Sydney will become reasonable and do-able for the average person again and on that day we will miss them terribly.
But for now, let me get back to being excited about the movie we saw last week.
Viceroy’s House stars the wonderful Hugh Bonneville as Lord Mountbatten and Gillian Anderson doing an amazing version of Lady Mountbatten. The story follows their time in India in 1947 in the transition of British India to independence and the eventual Partition of India and Pakistan.
It was a very thought provoking and timely story about the catastrophic and on-going problems that occur when one country meddles in the internal politics of another. Self-interest, the divisive nature of religion, the British policy of divide and conquer and the need for secure oil reserves all played a part in the unravelling of Colonial India. Britain (and India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) are still dealing with the after effects of this time to this day.
Last month I received an advance copy of Arundhati Roy’s latest novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. It was ‘highly confidential’ and strictly embargoed. I resisted the urge to read it straight away, to avoid any temptation to tattle on social media!
After coming home from watching Viceroy’s House seemed like the perfect time to begin. That would give me one week to read the book before the embargo lifted on Monday 29th May 9am (EST).
The first thing that struck me was the use of local lingo. I enjoy learning new words and phrases. Sometimes Roy gave us a context for these words and sometimes she didn’t. For example:
‘You mean I’ve made a khichdi of their story?’ she asked.
I looked up khichdi to discover it is a rice and lentil dish common to South Asian countries. In India it is one of the first solid foods fed to babies.
‘I’m a mehfil, I’m a gathering. Of everybody and nobody, of everything and nothing.’
Mehfil is a place where music and dance performances occur.
‘Sach Khuda hai. Khuda hi Sach hai.’ Truth is God. God is Truth.
After examining Aftab he said he was not, medically speaking , a Hijra – a female trapped in a male body – although for practical purposes that word could be used.
There were also some lovely turns of phrase early on:
No matter how elaborate its charade, she recognised loneliness when she saw it….And she had learned from experience that Need was a warehouse that could accommodate a considerable amount of cruelty.
However, at page 29 I started to struggle. My initial enthusiasm waned. I began to feel manipulated, the situation felt contrived, then Salmon Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children jumped into my mind.
I loved and adored Midnight’s Children with such intensity that any other simply pales in comparison.
So I put The Ministry of Utmost Happiness aside and quietly dubbed it instead #ministryofutmostdisappointment. The ABC TV Bookclub had announced they were reading it for their 6th of June show. I thought I would wait to see what they all had to say, before deciding to continue or not.
Most of them had something positive to say about the language, one of the characters and the structure, but when asked at the end, if they would recommend the book to anyone, most said not really. They enjoyed reading it, and were glad that they had read it, but found it uneven and as Marieke Hardy said ‘I like other books better and I’d recommend them instead‘.
To summarise – if you didn’t like The God of Small Things then you may or may not like this book too. But if you loved The God of Small Things then you most likely will find this disappointing.
I for one have decided to abandon this book at pg 49.
I have too many other books I really want to read.
But I’m very keen to read your reviews.
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