Hmmm...I've read with interest the reviews of this book and I think that you'll agree they are somewhat polarised!
My reading tastes are quite varied, from the Classics to Alex Garland and although I will try to be as objective as possible, the fact is that I really enjoyed this book.
Firstly, I am motivated to write a review for this book because I am at a loss as to how anyone could so vehemently be opposed to it without having an axe to grind with the author, (as opposed to reviewing the actual story), but predominantly because, like other reviewers here, I absolutely loved it and naturally want to share my enthusiasm and recommend it to others.
For me, Shantaram is a truly engaging read. It is exceptionally well paced and will take you on a journey that will, at times, leave you breathless and unable to turn the pages quickly enough. The authors' consummate depiction of character, place and drama will absorb you entirely in a relentless mêlée between the most noble and absolute base capabilities of human nature. Love, loathing, beauty, repugnance, tenderness and brutality - it's all here, in spades. However, there are two sections of this book which will enable you to catch up and assimilate, placed roughly at intervals between the first and second third of the narrative, and again between the second and third section. Believe me, you'll need these opportunities to relax a little.
The story of Lin, his travels, trials, dilemma and relationships with the individuals within the book are both enthralling and captivating in extremis. I would make claim that it is easily placed in my top five `you must read this' books. Such is my enthusiasm for this tome, I have bought several copies of Shantaram as gifts for friends and family, as I wouldn't dream of lending it to anyone, lest it not be returned!
He is certainly neither romantic, nor quixotic with regard to his immoral and corrupt past and, if you have any capacity for considered judgement, it is clear that he is not a merely one-dimensional character. If you find that you have no empathy with Lin, who has indeed led a fairly intense and criminal life, then you have either a very modest imagination, or are just a tiny bit dead inside.
As for the ending, well, I didn't find it disappointing, or that it `fizzled out' in the least. If you want a definitive conclusion to every storyline, then stick to Andy McNab, or the Hollywood film industry. The art of great entertainment is to have both thoroughly enjoyed the experience and to be left wanting more - I can't wait for further output from Gregory David Roberts.
So, "if you read only one book this year", make sure it's Shantaram.