The Goat thief by Perumal Murugan:
This collection of short stories from the Tamilian writer takes you into the villages, where both the children and adults make a beeline for the well, hoping to escape into its depth every chance they get. There’s the consternation of the housewife who doesn’t know what to do with the accumulating rice water, usually fed to cattle. Trapped in a flat in the city, with no one to talk to, she fears the gluttony of the toilet bowl. A chair becomes the reason of domestic dispute and the battle of the sexes. You have a child wailing all night for something as simple as the salt bowl.
In each of the stories, you get to see a facet of human nature. The writer shows that it’s the same everywhere. Jealousy sprouts quicker than weed as in case of the old man who can’t sleep because his neighbour is building a house. Caste bias lays exposed as the septic tank breaks down. The language and detail of the subsequent cleanup gets up your nose, as you put yourself in place of the protagonist. The stories of the young and the old, thieves and guards, are somehow reminiscent of older, simpler times, even as the the mystical raises itself more than once in the collection. As a whole, The Goat Thief is rather underwhelming. None of the stories capture your imagination or give pause barring ‘Shit’, they simply pass on as you move to the next.
On Beauty by Zadie Smith:
The novel follows two families, the Belseys and the Kippses, as they navigate the churn in their domestic lives. A heady love gives way to friendship to betrayal as the dynamics keep changing between the members. Set in the world of academia, the clash between the two families is as much a clash of liberal values and conservative. It’s this that sprouts up often even as they contend with extramarital affairs, God, the search of black identity and love.
If the sense of self versus living for the family divides the wives, within its realm they find friendship. Where their steadfast views divide the men, their acts reveal them to be the same in character. In the circle of a marriage all but unraveling, you find vestiges of former love hanging by the threads. And in its folds the questions of beauty, talent, opportunity, racism, even ageing. Smith touches on a variety of aspects but doesn’t overtly dwell on them. There is something new to contend as the story continues, rather slowly. Each character, searching for meaning in the wayward lanes life takes us through. The families, imperfect, fallible, all of them across the divide, still together at the end of it all, or at least most of them. Smith’s portrayal rings true for the most part, but nothing about them makes you root for them or their marriages or even lives. You remain a spectator, wondering why you booked the tickets and when will the shutters come down.
Ps: This is the first time I read Murugan and Smith and came away disappointed. Bookmark is a fortnightly column on this blog that will include book reviews and some occasional ramblings.