Saturday, March 07, 2009

Such a Long Journey

This wasn't entirely unlike the experience of reading White Tiger in that I was consistently engaged, and I actively enjoyed reading the book, yet at the end I was left feeling like the book was, well, just a book. That's probably not the clearest description. What I mean is that I feel like the best fiction has a life outside the pages it is printed on. It doesn't just capture your interest; it makes the world it describes feel real and immediate. I'm not saying that all the books that do this or great, nor am I saying that the same books will work for everybody, but I do think the feeling I'm talking about is an important feature of the books I love best.

So at first I thought that my problem with Such a Long Journey was that I was intellectually engaged but not emotionally engaged, and was privileging the latter over the former. That's probably true to an extent. But the more I consider it the more I think that the real problem lies elsewhere. It seems to me that Mistry undermines the many good things he is doing with his heavy-handed symbolism. His characters have to do double duty as people whose actions evolve naturally and people whose actions are so rife with symbolism that they become weighted down. I want them to be human beings and I want the things that happen to feel like they happen not because they have some preordained meaning but because this is the life the characters are leading. But Mistry forces his characters and events to be more than that in a way that is so subtlety free that it makes them less than human even as it imbues them with meaning. And I spent time thinking about the choices of the author instead of immersed in the world of the book. Something that, for me, is always at least a bit of a disappointment.

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