Saturday, December 04, 2010

The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi (2010)

My latest book from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program is The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi (2010). This is Indian author Shanghvi's second book, and it has received some positive reviews, but for the most part, I just couldn't get that into it.

The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay is the story of Karan Seth, a young photographer who comes to Bombay as a schoolteacher, falls in love with the city, and vows to document all its contradictions through his art. While working as a photojournalist, he is assigned the job of photographing Samar Arora, a former piano prodigy who gave up music and now lives the rich playboy life, accompanied by his boyfriend, an American writer named Leo, and his best friend Zaira, a famous Bollywood actress. Karan gets caught up in Samar's orbit, eventually becoming very close friends with Zaira as well. Things are further complicated with Karan meets Rhea, a beautiful (and married) potter with whom he has an affair of both the mind and the body. A shocking and violent event derails all our characters in the second half of the book, and the book closes as the characters come to terms with their changed world and their past decisions.

There is nothing wrong with the plot or, for the most part, the characters. My problems with this book have to do with the writing. Shanghvi never met an adjective he didn't decide to throw into his book, and he uses metaphors the way other authors use pronouns. Sometimes these metaphors are cringingly sexual:

Glee dripped out of Natasha like precum.


It occurred to Mantra that Priya had a crusty librarian's voice, one that could only be relieved with a dildo.

Sometimes they are just meandering and overly poetic:

Her voice wrapped itself around him; it was easy to imagine that at the end of the corridor of her voice there was a little room in which a blues singer was hiding from the world, serenading emptiness.

A little bit of this florid description goes a long way, and Shanghvi goes way beyond my level of patience for this kind of thing. His dialogue is also often at odds with his characters, moving the action along in sloppy skips instead of remaining true to the people and relationships that he has created for us.

All that being said, sometimes Shanghvi's technique of throwing all the adjectives into a bag, shaking it around, and pouring it onto the page ends up with some really nice and evocative descriptions of Bombay and his characters. And the plot really is engaging -- if it hadn't been, there is no way I could have forged my way through the text.

Only recommended if you have a lot of patience or a great interest in Bombay. Or if you haven't gotten your annual dose of adjectives.

1 comment:

Joolie said...

Wow. I am going to spend the rest of the afternoon comparing everything I possibly can to precum. But first I need to post this comment over a wireless connection that is as slow and oozing as...well, shoot. I can't really say what it's like exactly. I'll think of it, I'm sure.