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January 19, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments
Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire

I’ve posted many times recently about the Naipaul biography I finished two Saturdays ago, and then a couple of days ago about the book on Vietnam and McGeorge Bundy. I’m in the midst of three other non-fiction books: the history of the Byzantine Empire that I’ve also written about, the recent bestseller on traffic that I started just after Christmas, and a short book about the history of Daylight Saving Time that Joel read when he was home and left for me. But I decided it’s time for some fiction. Which leads me to an aside.

One of the larger figures in the Naipaul biography was his longtime editor Diana Athill, now 91. By chance, just last week her second memoir, Somewhere Towards the End, was reviewed in the NYT. Having edited Updike, Mailer and many others as well as Naipaul, Athill knows a thing or two about fiction. Yet, when I read the review, I was stopped by this passage:

I was surprised that this longtime fiction editor has declared that she has “gone off novels.”

Why? She no longer feels the need to parse the intricacies of human relationships and love affairs, “but I do still want to be fed facts, to be given material which extends the region in which my mind can wander.”

I’m not there yet. I think I’m not anyway, but then again, I haven’t read a novel in months. What I have read, this morning, is
a short story, the 60 page title story of Jhumpa Lahiri’s recent collection Unaccustomed Earth. I quite enjoyed it, and would happily have continued to read about the two principal characters, a father who moved to the US from India many decades earlier and lives alone in Pennsylvania after his wife’s unexpected death and a daughter, born in the US, who is now living in an unnamed Seattle suburb with her husband and young son. There is so much more I’d like to know about them. (But I wish Lahiri had done sufficient additional research to avoid saying on the second page that the daughter and her husband had bought a home “on the Eastside of Seattle.” I live on the east side of Seattle. Eastside refers to the suburbs on the east side of Lake Washington, Seattle lying on the west side of the lake. There is no such thing as the Eastside of Seattle. It soon becomes evident that the family lives in Bellevue. The Eastside.)

I look forward to reading the rest of the stories. I may alternate them with some of the other books I’m reading.

On an Indian theme, after I finished the story, we headed off to Bellevue (the Eastside) to see the movie Slumdog Millionaire. It’s been on the top of Gail’s list since it came out in November, but we had to see Quantum of Solstice first, and that’s the last movie we had been to. I had the mistaken impression that it was going to be a feel-good, uplifting movie. And maybe it is, but it’s also disturbing, with some scenes I could barely watch. I’m also tempted to complain that it has an overly manipulative plot, but the manipulation is so central to the story that I might be unfairly confusing manipulation with destiny, so I will refrain from criticizing it.

I was surprised by how many people show up at the movies at 11:00 AM. There was a pretty good crowd on line to get tickets. They weren’t all there for Slumdog Millionaire, but quite a few were. We were out a little before 1:30, and hadn’t yet eaten anything, so our next goal was to get lunch. Had I been thinking more clearly, I would have suggested to Gail that we go to one of our favorite Indian restaurants, just a couple of blocks north of the theater. But last night she had mentioned a Chinese restaurant in Bellevue, and that’s what was in my head, so that’s where we went.

Finally, just to round out the day, I’ll mention that we watched episode 5 of 24 tonight. No connection to India. Not yet anyway. You never know. There’s a lot going on so far this season. We’re hooked.

Tomorrow we return to reality. We’ll put the books, movies, and TV series aside to watch a new episode of history (the inauguration!), as implausible in its own way as Slumdog Millionaire and 24. I hope it’s a good series. I’m sure glad the old one is cancelled.

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