Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Some day you will find me/ Caught beneath the landslide.

Always been fascinated with first novels. In my mind, at least, they’re hopelessly intertwined with the process of being published. With first principles. With a clarity of motivation that gets a shade murkier with every subsequent piece of writing. Perhaps I romanticise it too much, but there’s a certain lack of artfulness, some strange lack of reader awareness, that makes a first novel just a little exceptional.

So here they are, three firsts.

Yann Martel's The Facts Behind The Helsinki Roccamatios. Strikingly self-conscious, and more than a little clunky. Among the unnecessary bits of self-reference, are traces of the intelligence and humour that will be distilled into a sensibility that makes Pi Patel such a sympathetic character. Other than that, the book seems to have been created, almost entirely, out of Martel's brute belief in having to be a writer. Which is pretty fascinating in itself.

John Bennett’s debut, Sea Otters Gambolling in the Wild, Wild Surf, seemed like another Vernon God Little wannabe. But the book straightens itself out in a hurry, and makes for a light, trippy read. It's a coming-of-age novel of these times, and while it might lack the emotional depth of, say, The Catcher In The Rye, it has an immediacy, a certain disposability, if you will, that's unerringly accurate about this generation.

I'm almost at the end of Suketu Mehta's Maximum City. Extremely mixed feelings. The book starts off as autobiography, and then plunges into what can only be described as a series of interviews, loosely connected by some bare-bones reportage. It feels strangely unfulfilling, like reading a writer’s background notes. The autobiographical stuff -- the geography of the novel, if you will – was enchanting, but that’s purely because it describes the city I spent most of my life in.

From the terrace at Café Naaz (scene of a disastrous first date with Parsi then-love-of-life; should have heeded the signs and run; would've spared me much grief from my friends, at least). To the 1993 riots (Annual Exhibition time in my post-grad year at Sophia; was forced to stay in ‘town’ with friends since travel back to my suburban home was too dangerous; phone lines were down, so couldn't call home and tell my parents; the next few months were hellish). To the dance bars (work in advertising, and you’ll see more than you should, e.g., your colleagues feathering ten-rupee notes at women moving a disinterested hip to daft Hindi movie songs).

All in all, unless the book changes dramatically in the last hundred pages, it’s just another nostalgia aid for ex-Bombayites like me.

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