The Girl Booker

The Girl Booker

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Shall I compare thee to a Summer's day?

The last book I posted about here was Lolita. A book all about cleverness and mental dexterity and quite proudly not about emotion, sentiment or meaning. In comparison,  The Lowland made me feel so deeply that I am struggling to find the words to explain it. I can say that I am sure the power of the book lies in Lahiri's ability to manipulate a reader's feelings, just as Nabokov's genius is in his ability to manipulate language. I read a lot of it while traveling to and from work, and there were several occasions when I almost cried on the train. It was so sad but it was so beautiful that I couldn't put it out of my thoughts, I had to keep reading.

Another book I found myself comparing The Lowland to was Barracuda. Both books are, among other things,  about a character who has done a terrible thing. Something that some may find unforgivable. Both characters try to live with this new, terrible version of themselves, and this forms a large part of our understanding of their respective natures. What I found so striking about this parallel is that the two characters in question take divergent paths from this point - one to healing and a sense of peace and self worth, the other to the brink of suicide. I found both responses utterly believable, which only made the question "what would you do if it were you" all the more urgent.

Since this is a post of comparisons I will add a final one: Edith Wharton. Lahiri's  and Wharton's characters seem bound equally by fate and social conventions in the decisions they make and the paths they choose. This, in my opinion makes everything even more tragic. As a modern reader, it is possible to see another way, another choice. To see this and know the protagonist cannot adds a piquancy and a sadness to the experience. So in summing up I suppose I can only reiterate how beautiful The Lowland is, and how much it gave me to think about. It was an absolute treasure of a book.

Five melancholy teardrops out of five.

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