Monday, June 23, 2008

These Foolish Things

Some time ago, prominent Irish playwright Gavin Kostick remarked that he thought that nowadays, the theatre should offer you an experience that you can't replicate on television or in films, and he vowed to come up with such theatrical experiences.

Deborah Moggach has made no such pledge that I know of, and that much is fairly obvious from this book. Don't get me wrong, it's a perfectly pleasant story about an Indian doctor living in Britain, married to a British woman with a dreadful father. When the father moves in to their house, the doctor complains to his entrepreneurial cousin, and the next thing you know, they've set up a retirement home in a dilapidated hotel in Bangalore. It's a cute idea, the characters are well sketched out, people's motivations and actions are believable, and there's even a bit of action and intrigue thrown in. But you just can't help thinking, as you're reading it, that there's no reason for this to be a book at all. It's got Sunday Night Drama With a Quality Cast of Veterans written all over it. Like the novel of The Commitments, there's nothing to it that you couldn't get onto the screen, and a production designer could have so much fun with the creeping entropy trying to reclaim the hotel even as older people try to carve out a new meaning for it.

Perhaps that's underselling it a little--it does have some nice themes of changing lives, shifting priorities, cultural ideas of getting older, dealing with families, and the new place of India in the world. But it just lacks some depth for a modern book. As anyone will tell you, you have to be competitive in the modern market.

1 comment:

Ammonite said...

Yes, I always get a strange feeling when I read a book that has "readily adaptable into a screenplay written all over it". As if the author was thinking "well I'll settle for a reader, but I'm really looking for a viewer". It makes me feel like I'm having the literary equivalent of a one night stand. After a while you think 'what's the point?"