So much for me rooting for “Room” although I must admit, I do feel a bit like the Nostradamus of Booker because I didn’t think Tom McCarthy’s “C” was going to win and I thought “The Finkler Question” was a delight. It’s very, very funny but more importantly for me, Howard Jacobson‘s language is outstanding. Quick, swift sentences but there’s nothing rushed about the choice of words. Rarely does a sentence in “The Finkler Question” demand you read it twice to understand it but frequently, I’d pause at a page and remember how eloquent a simple sentence was from a few pages back. You can’t miss the inventiveness of “Room” because much of the story rests on how Jack uses language differently from other people. Jacobson isn’t creating a dialect, like Donoghue did. He writes English without resorting to any spectacles but he writes beautifully, with precision and subtlety. I’ve loaned my copy of “The Finkler Question” so I can’t quote some of my favourite bits but it’s worth mentioning that they are sentences, rather than entire chunks. For instance, Jacobson writes that one character had “an architectural silence” about him. Nothing flashy about that phrase but it conjure up the gravitas of a father figure brilliantly and with gentle mockery. So yes, I did do some air-punching when I got up at 6.30am yesterday and learnt that Howard Jacobson had won the Booker prize for “The Finkler Question”. I also realised that the Booker had been announced precisely during the minutes I’d been writing about why I’d root for Emma Donoghue. And that if I’d checked BBC before going to sleep at 2.35am, then the bit of my mind that continued whirring through the night about who was going to win the Booker could have got four hours of sleep as well. Why am I spending sleeping hours wondering about the Booker? I’ve not the faintest. Clearly, I need to get a life.
Anyway, coming back to me at 6.30am. I don’t generally get up that early. A not-so-closely-related cousin has been staying with me for the past couple of weeks. She leaves the house at 7am so I’ve been waking up at 6.30 to make her breakfast and send this little twenty-something kid on her way. (Well, admittedly not every day but most days. Mainly because if I don’t get up, she turns on the television to ghastly Bengali channels that I didn’t know even existed and I end up waking to sounds and dialogues with which I don’t really need to begin my day.) The day the Booker was announced was one of the days that I did get up. Cousin and I put her breakfast together. She sat down next to me and began eating. I devoured news reports about the Booker.
Me: “Howard Jacobson won! The Booker, I mean.”
Cousin: “Have you read this book called ‘I Too Had A Love Story’?”
Me: “I Too Had a what?”
Cousin: “A Love Story.”
Me: “Er, no.”
Cousin: “I’m going to read it when I have a little more time. It’s written by a techie guy, I think he works in Bangalore now, but it’s too sweet. All my friends have read it and they said it’s too good, just too good. That’s the book I’m getting next.”
So much for the 1,345% more sales for “The Finkler Question” on Amazon after Jacobson won the Booker. The novel wasn’t even worth a polite “What’s it about?” as far as this cousin of mine was concerned. Her sights were set on “I Too Have A Love Story.”
I disdainfully regarded the new India that sat and chomped an omelette next to me. My cousin and her friends are the lot that Indian wings of foreign publishing houses want to woo. They’re the ones who have made Chetan Bhagat famous (cousin in question decided I was her favourite family member when a friend of mine said to her, “Do you want to meet Chetan? He’s a friend. ” Cousin swooned. Me, I’m debating whether to contact Friend ever again). There are many occasions when I’ve wanted to disown family members but generally that’s a reaction to how annoying, obstinate or insane they are. This is the first time that I wanted to do so because someone embarrassed me and because I didn’t want anyone to ever imagine we’re from the same DNA pool (we’re not. Seriously. There’s a whole complicated network of multiple marriages that makes us family. Honest). It was at the point where I was wishing I could get her a t-shirt saying, “We share Aunts, not Books” that it finally struck me how idiotic and presumptuous I was being (I was also being mean and rude, but that I already knew). Who’s to say “I Too Have a Love Story” is awful? I might find I like it, if I gave it a chance.
In my defence, I tried to give Ravinder Singh’s opus a chance. I looked for it, discovered the owner of Shaadi.com had launched it, learnt that the book was about a couple who fell in love but couldn’t end up getting married, found the author’s website, downloaded the book and started reading it. In chapter two, we meet Khushi, the narrator’s love interest. By that time, I’d already undergone the trauma of reading sms-speak in a novel, read some truly awful writing that bludgeons the English language, and I wanted both of them to die and end this story. The characters are imbecilic and immature, the observations are banal, the situation is predictable (anyone who read the blurb knows the girl’s going to die by the end of the book. Wait, was that a spoiler for you? I’m so sorry) and Ravinder Singh’s prose is a nightmare. It includes lines like the following,
She was the first among us to say: if you are going to be my life-partner. And in her voice, those words sounded so different, so magical.
And of course it was the magic of those words that overrode my consciousness and made me say, “It’s a gentleman’s promise. If you are going to be my life-partner, I will not booze unless you’re comfortable about it.”
Are you crazy?
I don’t knnoooowwww…
Yes, I counted the number of n’s, o’s and w’s. This is what being fluent in English means to the new India. No wonder my great uncle, who was arrested for his nationalist politics in pre-Independence India, has spent the past 15 years hollering that the British should never have left.
I couldn’t read “I Too Have A Love Story”. I, who proudly and delightedly read trash like Mills & Boons in my free time, couldn’t read the thing that I refuse to call a novel and that goes by the title, “I Too Have A Love Story”. Forget books by writers I like, it was easier to read novels I dislike intensely, like “Anna Karenina” or “Pride and Prejudice”. In his post-Booker-win interview with the BBC, Jacobson said, “There’s a fallacy out there that literature is difficult to read, and that tripe is easier to complete. It’s not true. You may try wading through what passes as a bestseller. It’s unbelievably difficult. Read me, it’s a joy. I’m not difficult. I’m a doddle.”
Ne’er were there truer words said.