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Elegant and deceptively simple
on 7 December 2015
Both the writing and the plotting are elegant and deceptively simple, and Ms Lahiri's short stories are a (gentle) pleasure to read. The language is unfussy and so are the characters - ordinary people caught in snippets of their ordinary lives. Yet what the characters symbolize is universal and they illuminate the human condition; they stay with you long after you've read them. And Lahiri's observations are superb: fascinating, wonderfully detailed insights into exotic but everyday lives.
The ruthlessly economical language, overall, does risk creating the impression of cold detachment. Jhumpa Lahiri lists the great Alice Munro among her literary heroes and the influence is easy to detect. I for one happen to love Munro therefore liked Lahiri very much indeed.
And it's true, the book has the faults all short stories collections usually suffer from: read in isolation, each story is interesting, even startling. Each story is also masterfully complete and left me satisfied with the amount of detail about each character, and with the ending. But as a whole book, the stories become repetitive. I quickly found the characters to resemble each other throughout, and that I had read the same story too many times, in this book and elsewhere. The affair between a young woman and an older, married man has been done to death, surely, and so has the young or not so young couple falling out of love. Furthermore, here, unfortunately, the unrelenting stylistic simplicity (the very thing which, for me, defines great writing) ends up feeling a little like dullness, and the author's elegant objectivity could push the reader into feeling disengaged and therefore uninterested.
'Interpreter of Maladies' certainly cannot be described as unputdownable; in fact, it is best to put the book down after one, maximum two stories, and come back to it much later. That being said, there are a few stories to which I shall return with delight, for sure.