I just started reading Neela.Padmanabhan's thalaimuRaigaL.VAnathi charged me a princely Rs.120 for what they claim is one of the all time best Tamil novels. I had just finished Kazuo Ishiguro's short story collection Nocturnes (faber and faber Rs.499/-)
Q: O what kind of man names prices of books he reads?
A: Well, an angry one:
Neela Padmanabhan's foreword showcases a writer who is quite conscious of his craft and the need to wield it with care. He takes strong exception to the practice of the narrator (or the author's voice in 3rd person novels) manifesting himself at the expense of the characters' credibility. His choice of dialect and expressions are dictated by his familiarity with the province and people. He was refuses to go all out in creating in completely unfamiliar territory. Regardless of whether this is ideal or not, that this is dictated by a commitment to credibility was something that I found impressive.
And - here is the cherry - the novel's lead character is a boy of fifteen who ages through the novel. The author points out that, in writing the novel, he has taken care to ensure that the choice of expressions reflect this gradual transition. And these are not just spoken expressions, mind you, he means the expressions in his thoughts, that thereby shape his characteristics as perceived by us.
As I am writing this, I have not got beyond the initial chapters but wanted to record this right away for a reason: if I read further, my opinion of the author's achievement of his stated objective, may overshadow the fact that I am thrilled, that this was among his considerations when writing. That he recognized how this was at the very core of writing fiction just blew me away. I expect writers to agonize this much before putting pen to paper.(Tireless readers of this blog may know that credibility is something that I have obsessed about in more than one occassion here.)
And this novel was written over 30 years ago.
Now, to the Booker winning Ishiguro. I was surprised that this considered acceptable, leave alone admirable, writing. It is bad enough that clever ideas have come to pass for a poems, but to attempt to pass them off as a short stories should be protested against severely before this too comes to pass (or has it already!).
Each of the stories in his collection 'Nocturnes' has a very interesting central idea. Most of the themes appeal to me a lot : genius past its prime, identity and jealousy, the importance of the ideal rasika, an artist attempting to relate to the world etc. But all stories were uniformly badly written: superficial conversations where people open up to near strangers (for the convenience of the stories), people speaking/doing the most convenient things for the writer and thought processes which are annoyingly simplistic.
In one of the stories, the lead character, a 'loser' is invited home by his married friend so that the latter can come across as better in his wife's eyes. Some of the conversations and characterizations are to be read to be believed. They are talking about the plan over phone when the friend dismisses a potential praise that his wife may not buy: "ah come on..that doesn't sound believable".
I laughed out loud there.