10 May 2009

Dreams of Rivers and Seas by Tim Parks

A hero, but self-indulgent and confused

Tim Parks comes to India and does a pretty good job. He knows that you're going to have to carry your woollens because the airconditioning is often desperately wintry. He knows that we can put away a whole lot of starters before we actually get to table. He knows exactly how things look and feel and smell. His description of the burning ghats shows that he spent some time out there watching. But he really should have got his manuscript vetted by a local because there are tiny goof-ups that give the game away like a put-on accent that falters at every strain. He has a bathroom attendant plug a basin and fill it with water so that a guest can wash her face - little knowing that no one in this country would dream of doing such a thing when all kinds of people have spat in the basin before her. We wash our faces with running water, right, especially at basins! He has his hero order lamb at a dhaba - he probably didn't notice that most of us here haven't yet started pretending that our mutton wasn't mutton.
Anyway, none of this is really important, because this is a very British book and is a little insight into British culture, relationships, values and concepts. Albert James is an anthropologist and his wife Helen a doctor who is devoted to the service of the wretched in
India. Albert is now dead and their son John arrives in India for the funeral. John is a bit of a tortured fellow - self-indulgent and confused whether he's in India or back at home trying to get money from his grandmother though he's at an age when he really should be funding his own needs. Does he want to marry his girlfriend or not (and does she want to marry him?) What's he going to do when he's done with blowing up his grandmother's generous gift? How does he feel when he learns the awful truth about his parents' weird relationship? Yawn.

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