Monday, September 6, 2010

Neela Padmanabhan and Kazuo Ishiguro

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.


  1. Thalaimuraigal seems to have a favourite theme of mine. Thanks for the intros. :-)

  2. பாஸ்கர்September 6, 2010 at 6:42 PM

    Nocturne படித்ததில்லை. ஆனால் Remains of the Day, An Artist of the Floating World ஆகிய இரு நாவல்களும் படித்திருக்கிறேன். Ishiguroவுக்கு craft தெரியாது என்று சொல்வது கொஞ்சம் அநியாயமான மதிப்பீடாகத் தோன்றுகிறது. சொல்லப்போனால் அவரை too crafty என்று கூட திட்டலாம்.

    தலைமுறைகள் ரொம்ப நாட்கள் முன் வாசித்தது. நீல பத்மநாபன் எழுத்து குறித்து பழுது சொல்ல முடியாது என்பது உண்மைதான்.


  3. பாஸ்கர், கொஞ்சம் ஓவரா போயிட்டேனோ :-)
    பெரும்பாலும் முதலில் சிறுகதை படித்துவிட்டு, பிடித்திருந்தால் மட்டும் அந்த எழுத்தாளரின் நாவல்களை படிக்க முனைவது வழக்கம். நிச்சயமாக இப்போது remains of the day படிக்கும் ஆர்வம் இல்லை.

    btw இந்த 'நம்பகத்தன்மை' மிக சிறப்பான எழுத்தாளர்களின் எழுத்திலும் எனக்கு பிரச்சினையாக இருந்திருக்கிறது. நான் கொஞ்சம் அடம்.

    சாத்தான், நான் புல்கக்காவ் படித்துவிட்டு இந்நனறிக்கடனை தீர்ப்பேன்.

  4. Suresh S, can you pls repost your comment. I deleted it by mistake.

  5. புல்காக்கோவ் படிக்க ஆரம்பிச்சிட்டீங்களா? விருந்துதான். "can you pls repost your comment." இதே வேலையாப் போச்சு.

  6. சார், Remains of the Day மட்டுமாவது தைரியமாகப் படித்துப் பாருங்கள்- ஒரு பட்லரின் பார்வையில் இருந்து எழுதியது!(சில பேர் சிறுகதைகளில் சொதப்புவார்கள், நாவலில் வெளுத்து வாங்குவார்கள்- என்று நினைக்கிறேன்)

    ஏறத்தாழ கசந்து போன ஜீவ்ஸ் கசப்பைக் காட்டிகொல்லாமல் dignifiedஆக ஒரு சோகக் கதையை சொல்வது மாதிரி இருக்கும் என்று நினைக்கிறேன்.

    எனக்கு அவரது நடை பிடித்திருந்தது (பட்லரின்!)

    நம்பகத்தன்மை எனக்கு பிரச்னையாக இல்லை: நான் படிக்கிற வெள்ளைக்கார வாழ்க்கை எனக்குத் தெரியாத ஒன்றாக இருப்பதால். எதைச் சொன்னாலும் நம்புகிற மாதிரிதான் இருக்கிறது :)

  7. A little harsh only :-) I read Remains of the Day (Booker-ed)and Pale View of the Hills - his first. I liked the latter a lot. It was a dark, Japanese-English tale brimming with the author's stamp. But Remains made me want to read Wodehouse, so badly! But, in a way you are right, I think he has a way of making you feel slightly disconnected with his characters, like you aren't supposed to really peel down the layers and get to know them, or something. There's always a wall. The exact reason why I love a new author like Chimamanda Adichie. She writes so passionately about every character - that you want to embrace them and call them your own. I club the 2 authors because they are both from lands I know nothing about - Nigeria-America/ Japan-UK.

  8. Ishiguro's 'Remains of the Day' is a melancholic read, though I must confess that I like the title much more than the book itself.