Posts Tagged ‘booker prize’

In Laxmangarh, a boy is born. There’s definitely no big star in the sky on that night, showing people where to go: his parents don’t give him a name, nor remember his birthday. He’s called munna, or ‘boy’, for the first years of his life. Eventually, the government bestows these missing birthrights upon him, but the flavour of their choices is decidedly off. His new name, Balram, is the name of the god Krishna’s sidekick: one stir of the cement settling the boy’s inheritance of servitude. Balram’s birthday is decided on election day since the government’s corrupt methods requires another 18-year-old voter. Welcome to the Darkness of India.

Holy nuts, I enjoyed reading this book. The internet must be full of information about it, so I won’t bore you with more plot details or anything like that. It definitely deserves a wide readership: it was very engaging, and Adiga is a skilled writer who has created a fresh, light voice capable of discussing anything from fear of lizards to the insane magnitude of the socio-economic gap between India’s rich and poor.

The White Tiger proffers plenty of exquisitely appalling moments illustrating this repugnant power differential. One of these is the scene a few days after a drunken driving spree by Balram’s master’s wife, Pinky, results in the death of a young boy. The family which Balram serves frames him for the crime. It turns out that there were no witnesses, so the death gets buried by the police, but Balram is not informed that he is off the hook:

The Mongoose and Mr Ashok were sitting in front of a TV screen, playing a computer game together.
The door to the bedroom opened, and Pinky Madam came out. She had no makeup on, and her face was a mess – black skin under her eyes, lines on her forehead. The moment she saw me, she got excited.
‘Have you people told the driver?’
The Stork said nothing. Mr Ashok and the Mongoose kept playing the game. ‘Has no one told
him? What a fucking joke! He’s the one who was going to go to jail!’
Mr Ashok said, ‘I suppose we should tell him.’ He looked at his brother, who kept his eyes on the TV screen.

But just as Balram was a recusant escapee from the prison of poverty, I never gave in completely to the book’s charm. I guess I’m a slightly captious reader, because, as laid out above, there’s plenty to like about The White Tiger. Balram has just enough emotional depth to make him an amiable narrator, but not much more. Like The Life of Pi, my least favourite Booker winner I’ve read so far, The White Tiger recounts traumatic events, but in the denouement is almost too flippant about what went before. Balram is certainly disconcerted by the murder he’s committed: ‘I am not a politician or a parliamentarian. Not one of those extraordinary men who can kill and move on, as if nothing had happened. It took me four weeks in Bangalore to calm my nerves.’ But what he did in those four weeks, you’re going to have to guess. I don’t think Balram should necessarily have been more apparently wracked. It just meant that I didn’t get so close to him. But a greater meaning is served by this absence of emotional turmoil: whether you are from the Darkness or the Light, India will bring out the brutality in you.

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the checklist for liking this novel:

  • do you like fairytales?
  • without irony?
  • really, come on?
  • have you ever been in love with a member of the academic staff at a tertiary education institution?
  • are you somewhat enthralled by the recondite?

please, i love me a little reductio ad absurdum.

the blind assassin is clever, but not in the way those familiar with margaret atwood’s poetic timbre might at first think. with immaculate, painstaking precision, atwood amortizes the story of iris chase griffen. iris is an ex-society wife crumbling away in near-urban canada, whose story is revealed through the canny use of interstitial literature.

because of their thorough nature, the weight of their wend, the ostensibly amateur scribblings of iris griffen are well in need of the respite offered by the interspersed portions of newspaper chatter and a ‘novel’. this fictional novel, authored by iris’ heterodox sister laura chase, is the ‘real’ the blind assassin. the difference between the author’s dessicated present and the parenthetical past suspends in its solution an apposite bathos, the figuring of the space between and within the self. atwood marks well the severe consequences of such disaccord. the prettiness of atwood’s elderly narrator’s language, and her self-imposed task of remembering the histories of others is conveyed at length, and can sag. in contrast, the immediacy and creativity of the pages attributed to laura are robust; they rise as if still breathing when exhumed from a mausoleum wrought grey with time.

the waves, the characteristic constant cursive ‘w’ of the novel’s narrative force is effective, but wearying. an effect of this, likely intended, is the incomplete sketching of the various characters. from the numinous laura to the chases’ strangled father, norval, iris’ flawed gaze construes the players in bemused monochrome, much like the bizarre photograph tints favoured by the young laura. the passive subjects of these portraits are realised most intensely in their effects on iris, the repository of their collective folly, pride, betrayal and love.

(an aside: i’ve always admired how validating it is to win a booker prize. it gets plastered on everything you ever do. perhaps you’ll write a little paragraph for your old school paper. or you’ll write a bad book. forever you will be ‘booker prize winner’ X. even if you kill or rape someone, although perhaps not for certain after that.)