The Elephanta Suite

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 August, 2008, 12:00am

The Elephanta Suite

by Paul Theroux

Penguin, HK$144

The Elephanta Suite comprises three novellas set in India and filtered through the eyes of a number of American protagonists. There is Dwight Hutsinger, a world-weary businessman (or 'necessary evil'). When Dwight is not busy arranging out-sourcing deals, he finds himself sexually involved with a child prostitute and then a hairdresser. There are Audie and Beth Blunden, who so enjoy the physical benefits of their Ayurvedic health spa they all but miss the poverty in the surrounding villages. And then there is Alice, whose year off backpacking around the country opens her eyes to the gap between India in fiction and India in fact. As with Neil Simon's California Suite Theroux's tales take place in the same hotel: here, the Taj Mahal in Mumbai. But while Simon played the coincidence for laughs and pathos, Theroux uses the single setting to contrast western perceptions of India with its reality. As the well-read Alice realises: 'The Indian novels she'd read in the States had not prepared her for what she saw ... where were the big fruitful families ... the love affairs, the lavish marriage ceremonies?' Theroux toes a fine line. Is he criticising Indian novelists, ignorant westerners, Indians, or all of the above? Whatever the answer, it is relayed in prose as vivid as ever.




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