Sunday, May 22, 2005

Shades of Narayan in Vassanji

Finally finished doing time with MG Vassanji's The In-between World of Vikram Lall. Am not sure what the reviewers, whether in India or Canada or elsewhere in the English-speaking world, would have said about the book. For my part, I thought it was really good. I started it with little or no expectation - often a good thing, as often bad - and it ended up surpassing my expectations by quite some distance.

I'm no reviewer of literature - not by a long shot. So I'll reserve my reviewing instincts here. But I do want to discuss the bit about the shades of RK Narayan that I found in Mr Vassanji's book. It's the same sort of language. In RK Narayan's case, I would like to think that the language was not something he had worked out and worked upon. I think it was more to do with the language he knew. In his youth, I'd say Narayan learnt his English from the best English medium school in the Tamil town he grew up in. He learnt the language diligently, was told he writes well as a kid, and grew up wanting to be a writer. Which he did. For Indians, he became the face of English writing; for the West, and Graham Greene, he was just this quaint, charming writer.

For me, he remains one of the greatest writers of all time. Not so much because of his language, which was limited at the best of times. But more because of the way he wrote. His simple, uncluttered, uncomplicated story structures. His complete control over his subjects, characters and places.

I think that's exactly where Vassanji scores. I think he is in superb control of his time, place, and people. The subject, that is. Because I think his is a more well worked out language. Uncomplicated, but with flashes that prove he knows his English better than he wants the world to know. I haven't read any of his other books. I want to. If they come my way, I'll hope they are as ecucated as Vic Lall is.