Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Updike weighs in on Mistry.

Points worth pondering:

*"Mistry harks back to the nineteenth-century novelists, for whom every detail, every urban alley, every character however lowly added a vital piece to the full social picture, and for whom every incident illustrated the eventually crushing weight of the world. Liveliness, precision, weight: these old-fashioned mimetic virtues, and the broad sympathy that calls them into being, cannot be taken for granted during a time when the producers and consumers alike of fiction have had their sensibilities early deadened by an incessant barrage of visual entertainment as insubstantial as it is eye-catching. In a world of hurry and quick artistic killing, Mistry has kept the patience to tease narrative and moral interest out of domestic life, in a subcontinent of more than a billion striving, often desperate souls."

This is, I think, why so many readers of fiction will respond to the novel: this scrupulous nineteenth-century yearning for photographic reality.

* I have not encountered another novel, except the Marquis de Sade's "The 120 Days of Sodom," in which excrement plays so prominent a role.

I was thinking more Joyce than de Sade; you see that a lot in Ulysses, this focus on body odor, gas, shit. Joyce wanted to rub the reader's nose in it and I suppose Mistry does too for a different purpose. He wants to put us in this family, because in almost any family there's likely going to be a more natural ease with the topic of waste and hygiene. Would I be too far off the mark to say that families carry with them a smell recognizeable only to its own members? Mistry wants us to get a good whiff of the Chenoys.

* "The reader is moved, even to tears, by these rites of passage among characters we have lived with long enough to feel as family. Against the suspicion that the tears are too easily earned, it could be argued that family matters penetrate to our deepest level; they are the mill that grinds our flour, the lathe that gives us our shape."


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