For me, one of the great things about literary awards is discovering the work of authors which might otherwise have passed me by. The Man Booker Prize longlist, for example, recently brought Jhumpa Lahiri to my attention. After reviewing ‘Unaccustomed Earth‘ just a few weeks ago, I got hold of copies of her first collection of short stories ‘Interpreter of Maladies’ which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000 and her first novel ‘The Namesake’ published in 2003. I am now hoping that Lahiri’s new Booker Prize shortlisted novel ‘The Lowland’ lives up to my increasingly high expectations.
This is a sort of two-in-one book review partly in an effort to catch up on my reviews after a break from blogging and partly because it is easier to review two books by the same author together especially after reading them back to back. Moreover, my thoughts about ‘Interpreter of Maladies’ were virtually the same as my thoughts about ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ and I don’t want to repeat myself too much. The stories which stood out for me in this particular collection were ‘A Temporary Matter’ and ‘Sexy’. Lahiri writes about many different types of family relationships but I think her real strengths lie in those stories which focus on struggling young married couples and the point when the cracks start to show. Overall, I thought both collections were very strong and I really enjoyed Lahiri’s understated observations about family life.
When I started reading ‘The Namesake’, I suspected that it too had originally begun life as a short story and according to Wikipedia (that well-known source of reliable information), it seems that I was right. ‘The Namesake’ tells the story of Gogol Ganguli, born in 1968 to Indian immigrants in Massachusetts. Named after his father’s favourite author, Gogol’s unconventional name has many implications for him in several different episodes throughout his life from early childhood to adulthood allowing the link between names and identity to be thoroughly examined from a number of different angles.
At just under three hundred pages, ‘The Namesake’ is not a particularly long novel yet it felt like so much happened in that time. Lahiri’s writing is somehow plain yet also very detailed at the same time. This makes the pace of the story quite slow but in a leisurely way rather than a frustratingly sluggish way. As Lahiri is probably more famous for her short stories, I was not expecting to like ‘The Namesake’ as much as her other work but once again, I found myself being very drawn in by the story as further layers continued to be added to the characters.
When I reviewed ‘Unaccustomed Earth’, I commented that Lahiri works with quite a narrow set of themes based primarily on the experiences of Bengali immigrants in the US. Having now read three books by Lahiri, this appears to be the case in her other work and from what I’ve heard, her new novel ‘The Lowland’ looks as though it is more of the same too. However, I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing as Lahiri is very good at what she does and I am very much looking forward to reading her latest effort.