In The Armchair

Amitav Ghosh

Posted in Books and Literature by Armchair Guy on August 25, 2008

Amitav Ghosh is an interesting author. So far I’ve read only two of his books: The Hungry Tide and The Glass Palace. I really like The Hungry Tide, but The Glass Palace was a huge disappointment. I’m about to read the recently released Sea of Poppies, maybe I’ll post my impressions.

Ghosh is supposed to be historically very authentic. Problem is, he’s also a master of insipid writing. He’s at the opposite end from Salman Rushdie or even Arundhati Ghosh. Prose in The Glass Palace is earnest, sincere, grammatically perfect — but not brilliant. The moments of brilliance in that book derive from the vivid detail, not from the prose itself.

Somehow, he managed to make The Hungry Tide a great book in spite of this. Perhaps it was the subject: the dark, dank, dangerous Sunderbans. The Glass Palace is unsatisfying, though. Ok, his ideas may have been good, but it really doesn’t feel like a finished product. While it starts very well, I got the impression Ghosh got tired of the book midway and just wrapped it up somehow. Parts of the book spend several pages on the description of events in a single day or hour. Other parts skip several decades in a paragraph. Parts are intensely detailed, other parts are totally textureless. Entire subplots are introduced and then fizzle out without any consequences in the book. I mean, who cares about an intimately detailed illicit encounter one of the female characters has if she hardly plays a role in the rest of the book? The book isn’t really meant to have a plot, it’s just a succession of events in the lives of some families. But it just didn’t work for me.

Having said that, it wasn’t a total loss either. I did get a good deal of interesting historical detail from it, and I think I understand conditions in those days better than I did before I read the book. It also has some interesting studies into the British army in India. Overall, I think it’s worth reading just for the historical perspective.

Hopefully Sea of Poppies will be a more coherent read.

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