In the queue also are And the World Changed, an anthology of contemporary stories by Pakistani women, and Kavery Nambisan’s The Hills of Angheri. Kalpana Swaminathan’s Bougainvillea House (which I’m actually looking forward to, having enjoyed her previous book, Ambrosia for Afters) should be on the way as well. Am also trying very hard not to think about the fact that the new Vikram Seth is due soon.
And barely had I started to contemplate all this when I received an uncorrected book proof of this new thing called Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (Book One of yet another fantasy trilogy, this time billed as “a comic bestseller of Artemis Fowl proportions”). Doesn’t seem too promising at first glance (the most convincing thing I’ve heard about it so far is that it’s backed by a 75,000-pound PR and marketing campaign, including “consumer advertising, consumer competition and media stunts”. Movie rights sold to Fox. Ah well), so will set it aside for now.
In between, foolishly deluded that I’d have some time to read for pleasure, I picked up Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club and Philip Roth’s The Breast from Khan market, both slim books that wouldn’t take up much time (and I’m familiar enough with Fight Club anyway, because of the film). Managed to get through Roth’s novella in just over an hour yesterday: it’s about a man (Professor David Kepesh, one of Roth’s infrequently recurring protagonists) who wakes up to find himself transformed into a 155-pound female breast. There are the expected nods to Kafka and Gogol, and Roth does some interesting things with the premise. But I was also slightly disappointed for reasons that Martin Amis had once articulated in a fine essay: “He is a comic genius,” Amis had written, referring to Roth’s early work (of which The Breast, published in 1972, is one), “so where does he get off not being funny enough?”
I felt that way too, because for all the serious observations Roth makes in this book (on sexuality, the use of coercion in relationships, the connection between literature and life), it’s also clear that he intended it to be a comic novel in tone - and somehow it just doesn’t work from that perspective. There are no sustained laugh-out-loud moments, certainly nothing that approaches the brilliance of Portnoy’s Complaint. But it’s still Roth, and no one raves like he does. Here’s an excerpt:
“Now, with Dr Klinger’s assistance, I was trying to figure out why of all things I had chosen a breast. Why a big, brainless bag of dumb, desirable tissue, acted on instead of acting, unguarded, immobile, hanging, there, as a breast simply hangs and is there? Why this primitive identification with the object of infantile veneration? What unfulfilled appetites, what cradle confusions, what fragments out of my remotest past could have collided to spark a delusion of such classical simplicity? On and on I babbled to my father and then, once again, joyously, I wept. Where were my tears? How soon before I would feel tears again? When would I feel my teeth, my tongue, my toes?”
And I just realised I’ve been writing this post in what was meant to be my reading time. So now I’ll go.