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Tokyo Cancelled Paperback – 22 Jul 2011
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‘Only the most gifted writers, like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jonathan Safran-Foer, can hold the surreal and the real in satisfying equilibrium. This elite now welcomes Rana Dasgupta to its ranks. He makes magic realism his own, and his debut novel is superb. The novel's momentum comes from the narrators, though the plot in which they come together is deceptively mundane: their plane is grounded and they tell stories to pass the night. But this is just the structural glue for a series of spellbinding tales composed in a crisp but poetic prose which already has the hallmarks of a signature style. Dasgupta's gift for inventing stories is quite remarkable: you feel he could go on forever and never get boring. Tokyo Cancelled is profound, but in the humblest and most sensitive way. A treat.’ Andrew Staffell, Time Out 'Book of the Week'
‘Executed with elegance and charm’ The Guardian
‘This is a very bold, very striking book. In an age when so many first fictions are thinly veiled autobiography, and every other creative writing tutor is peddling the 'Write what you know' mantra, it is exceptionally refreshing to read a writer who is daring to imagine, rather than transcribe. Tokyo Cancelled is an unforgettable book, with its own peculiar charms. I shall be fascinated to see what happens next.’ Stuart Kelly, The Scotsman
About the Author
Rana Dasgupta grew up in Cambridge, England. He worked for a marketing consultancy in London and New York for a few years before moving to Delhi to write. He lives there still.
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There were one or two that really had a kernel of something interesting - The Doll (story 8) and The Memory Editor (story 2) - but the nihilism and joylessness still managed to creep into both, dragging them down to the same level as the other 10. 10 because, somehow, the first story actually had something a little special. It's just a story of a tailor and, again, it has no Happy Ending, but its ending is quiet, and acceptable and compared to all the others, it's almost a breath of fresh air.
There's no doubt that Dasgupta can write - he clearly loves words, and he loves using them to communicate his ideas; and there's no doubt that the fantastic and imaginative are wonderful things in a world so clogged with cookie-cutter entertainment. But, somehow, you come away from reading it with the belief that there's really very little that's good in the world; like everything is grey, and dirty and hopeless.
It took me over 2 months to slog through this as I abjectly despised it for the first few weeks. Having forced myself to finish it, I can't say I'm particularly overjoyed, particularly as the best (for some reason) story is the first one - but it's impossible to read all the way through without becoming slightly fond of it. It's not something I'll ever read again, but one or two of the characters have stayed with me, and that has to mean something.
Unfortunately, he is often over-ambitious, to the point of over-stretching himself. A warning sign comes on p. 1 when the word 'eschatalogical' is used in a context that indicates the author does not know what it means. Capital letters are inserted, apparently at random, (eg: "People were Taking Stock." p. 4) with no obvious function other than to convey to the reader that Dasgupta wishes to push the boundaries of form -- but to what end?
Things do pick up, and some of the stories are reasonably good yarns. But on the whole I felt that the stories themselves, like the writing style, were frequently overblown. They are self-contained sketches that try to convey a profound idea in the space of 20 or 30 pages. That's not easy, and Dasgupta simply is not up to the task. That is not to say that his writing is bad, and he may produce good fiction in the future, but with this first effort I feel he has overshot.
I would be lying if I said I enjoyed this book. The author certainly has a vivid imagination and a gentle and often charming way with his prose but a lot of the stories left a bad taste and were just plain weird or "wrong" even. There is the deformed dwarf who sleeps with his beautiful sister, the dressmaker who changes tack to partake in hardcore S&M, the businessman who escapes from his wife to a flat with a sex doll of his own creation and more. These stories are not erotic, sometimes just plain depressing and often inaccessible. I say this as a broad minded and experienced reader. The author is no stranger to an unhappy ending and I was left with the impression he was an only child who spent a lot of his early years being unkind to small animals.
This is not to say there are not good points. I enjoyed the story of Robert de Niro's lovechild who on finding the Willy Wonka style golden ticket in a box of Oreo's, won ten cookies that could turn his girlfriend into an upmarket department store for the day. This was imaginative and amusing, rare humour amongst a lot of darkness. This was a gem as were the two shortest stories, The Speed Bump and The Flyover. I also enjoyed The Changeling, the non-human being who was "outed" during a Parisian small pox epidemic. However, The Dream Recycler and Memory Maker were quite clever (maybe too clever) but similar and mostly confusing. Fans of Iain M Banks may get more out of those than me.
I would have liked to know more about the storytellers and how they came across their tales but as mentioned, we are clueless as to who said what. There is scant dialogue between the stories so the whole "Tokyo Cancelled" thing was a bit of a red herring and disappointing for me as it could have added to the book overall. A modern Canterbury Tales it ain't.
I like the occasional flutter but I would be unlikely to gamble on another Dasgupta book.
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