The Elephanta Suite was this week’s read. It’s a book of three novellas, each presenting an aspect of Indian culture, exposing the differences in shattering light. Half-way through the first story, Monkey Hill, I noted: “the narrowing cave of consciousness” and that “I was quite board with the story. This 50-ish year old rich couple, on vacation at an Indian ayervedic spa, are just plain dull…or realistic perhaps.” I was about to jump to the next novella, but I read on…and did not stop until I finished, to an end that sent chills through me, to an end one would suspect, but not see coming. In a word: brilliant. (I have to summon more patience; I’ve been reading too much teen fiction.)
The second story, The Gateway to India, the longest of the three, was compelling as well. A 40-ish lawyer escapes a failed marriage and divorce by taking an outsourcing job in India, where he is dazzled by young girls who offer services for money. This other life he hides from his associates. “He was a man who had discovered sex in India and thought it was magic. But it was an illusion, the consequences of his having power and money in a land of desperation. Sex was a good thing, because it had an end, and when his desire died he saw he’d been a fool.” I tried to like this guy, but failed miserably (a bit like my feelings for Humbert Humbert in Lolita, I grew disgusted with the him and these naked girls giving him blow-jobs…and patting himself on his back for “rescuing them” with is money.)
The last story is called The Elephant God. We meet the young woman Alice, who is traveling in the ‘wonderland’ of India, donning a sizable backpack and a smile. After her traveling companion abandons her for a guy, a blatant break in the promise that they made in their own travel contract, Alice finds herself at the Ashram on her itinerary. On a walk outside the gates she befriends a kept elephant in a courtyard and visits the docile memory-filled creature regularly with gifts of carrots or cashews. But when a tragic event befalls Alice, she butts heads with the Indian culture and justice system in which “denial” plays a big part in–a part which Alice cannot win. Instead, she seeks her own justice without remorse…surpising this reader once again.
This is the first book by Paul Theroux that I’ve read. He is an evocative writer of furious, thought-provoking, and disturbing prose. Looking forward to one called Blinding Light in the future. A writer sets out in the Ecuador jungle in search of a hallucinogenic drug in the hopes of curing his writer’s block. Mmmmmm….