March 19, 2008

Amitav Ghosh's "The Glass Palace" - Too vast a Canvas?

It took me some three weeks to finish reading "The Glass Palace" by Amitav Ghosh, and that is telling. It is rare that a piece of fiction can keep me at bay for this long; the lure of a yarn is immense, and I simply can't resist a tale being spun. However, when a tale has a tail too long, even the most ardent of readers can't stifle those yawns and eventually lets go! That is what happens with "The Glass Palace".

Amitav Ghosh's novel is painted on too large a canvas that spans across multiple countries located in more than one continent! The plot unravels over two and three generations of people seemingly related; either by birth or by social interaction. Ghosh, while relating a family saga, was hoping it would make epic grandeur. Alas! the connectivity between various side plots wore thin at most places, and often left the reader confused. For instance what started as the story of a young and poor Rajkumar amid the ostentatious but strife torn royal family of Burma, gradually becomes a coming-of-age saga of Dolly the pretty and loyal maid of the royal family. It doesn't end there, eventually the story presents Arjun, a soldier, and Dinu, a photographer, on center stage, and against the backdrop of World War II! If you are wondering whether I'm giving it all away; let me assure you that I couldn't give out the story even if I wanted to because of its length and its complex plot. Furthermore, you truly may need some outside help if you did decide to read this novel because of its erudite settings which are crucial to the understanding of the plot. One would have to be a historian or an anthropologist to fully understand the political goings on in the novel that serve as settings at various points in the story. As for the title, I would just let it go, for I shudder to think what new vistas of erudition that would open up and further overwhelm the reader.

It appears Ghosh had a grandiose plan to cover a multitude of disparate happenings within the scope of this novel; unfortunately, he couldn't find a weave to bring it all together as one harmonious whole.


Coffee-Drinking Woman said...

Might the interest in the plot spark an interest in history? It sounds like a book to study, not a book to read.

Khakra said...

Not to upset the suspense mood set, I abandoned the book early on. I got a bit miffed by the sweeping grandeur and stereotypes Ghosh exploits. Royalty, the Burma landscape and the like. This was a while back, maybe I've matured as a reader and it's time to reconsider the book.

EYE said...

I am surprised. Ghosh is usually good at amagamating the different threads of diversity. I have read the Shadowlines and in that he seems to have done it convincingly.

Anonymous said...

Yes. I know what you mean.
I've had my share of experiences with books which have no ends and which could be recommended by doctors for curing insomnia.

However, I have abandoned all such books mid-way or even earlier.
I do admire your patience for enduring the 512 pages of the book.

I haven't read much of Indian Authors - but I assure you, you'd find the folktale-y stories of Malgudi Days by R.K. Narayan or the many short stories by Ruskin Bond very interesting.

Though not very intellectually invigorating, they make for extremely delightful reading and give the readers a peak of what life was (is?) in the remote and old parts of India (Malgudi Days).

Id it is said...

Getting through those 512 pages was quite a daunting task.

I've read Malgudi Days and I've also watched it on screen with English subtitles, and they were simply outstanding; I loved them! As for Ruskin Bond, I've read his stories too but I can't say i like all of them.