Actually, I started this post in March. I finally got the urge to write because I hated this book so much. Isn't that so human? I still haven't started a review for The Book Thief, a book that I love but I already posted a review about a book that I hated. That's mankind for you, driven by hate...
I stopped reading halfway through the book. And I assure you this is quite a feat considering it has 900++ pages in it. So, page-wise you can say I read a whole book.
Shantaram is about an Australian who after escaping prison ran to India and settled there. He befriended a local man who started out as his guide but in time became the most trusted friend. Along the way he met other colourful and shady characters, and embarked on various jobs which include trading in the black market and a doctor. Yep, a doctor. And this is based on a true story. To me, right of the bat, it's like The City of Joy meet The Beach. A white man searching for salvation found it in a distant country in Asia, learn the culture, accepted as one of their own and became a doctor to them. I've also come to the conclusion that merging 2 great books DO NOT yield one great novel.
After 200++ pages I was already tired with his philosophical mumbo-jumbo. Actually, 10 pages in I got a bad feeling already. I just think he's trying too hard. And the philosophy he presented in the book, to me it's more like The 70's Show 20 years later than anything else. It's like a bunch of stoned dudes sitting around the table and discussing about stuff, which I can imagine since he's probably high most of the time when he was in India. Clearly a first novel, a novice attempt. But I kept reading because I have the habit of reading the book before watching the movie and I rarely drop a book.
Halfway in, I just can't stand it. The simile! It's just too much! "the forest of her brow", "lavishly perfumed with rain", "the monsoon was probing the village", yadayadayada... It's kind of cheezy after a while. and i thought a good piece of writing is one that holds back on the similes. I think it's like the first rule of writing. I'm sure Strunk and White mentioned it. Sure enough, Section 4. No. 18, "Use figures of speech sparingly." Not exactly first but still important enough to be written down. Heck, I learned that in Writing 101. But then, I gotta give him some slack. Maybe he didn't take any writing class back the, being busy with robbing banks and treating the poor etc. But then, his editor must have, right? God, somebody should fire him/her.
And the plot? What plot? The only continous theme throughout the book (at least the first half) is his obsession with this girl. I thought things would get interesting with the introduction of Khader Bhai, but no luck there. After a short introduction and a loooong discussion about the 'philosophy of pain', I never saw him again.
Another thing that I can't stand is those great reviews he's been getting. Check out Amazon.com. One person even said he should get a Pulitzer!
[imagine a smiley face puking here]
I don't know what those people are thinking nowadays. Pulitzer is Euginides' Middlesex, or Walker's The Color Purple, not a bunch of random thoughts.
A tip when choosing a book, if you see that the cover features any quotes commenting about the book, check who they are quoting. If it's by reknown journals (NY Times, New Yorker), you're okay. BUT if it by some magazine you never heard of or "other authors" no matter how famous they are, you gotta be careful. You've been duly warned.
I'm looking forward to the movie though. The book is way too long so maybe the movie can give it justice since most of the time the book got cut in the adaptation process. I also love Johnny Depp. The book kinda remind me of Sideways, average book, great movie. I hope it's the same with Shantaram. Anyway, I think Roberts should write screenplays IF he can 'reign in the multiplicity of his simile' (haha, had fun with that one. goes to show anyone can write cheezy prose).
If anyone wants to read about the slum/lepers life in India, read City of Joy. It's way better.