Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What I (Couldn't) Finish Reading: Glass Palace

I made it halfway through the novel Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh before finally closing it for good. Why?

Because everything and nothing happened.

Glass Palace falls into the category of the “Suffering Colonial Epic” for me … one of those books which tries to encompass life under English rule in some far eastern country. You get the typical poverty, the brutality and disdain from the English, the extravagance and pointlessness of emperoric rule, the sweeping generational movement of time, etc.

I find it all so predictable and in this specific case, not that interesting. I think Glass Palace wants to be a love story, but its scope tends to skip over those details that make love interesting: the depth of the interaction between the characters. Basically, in late 1800s Burma, a 10-year-old boy sees a 10-year-old girl and finds her “the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen.” They are then separated for 20 years, more or less, in which their lives jump and bounce around with no real development. Of course, he becomes a financial mastermind (with little believability except that it just sort of happens) and tracks her down. She barely remembers him, but in one brief conversation decides: Sure. Why not? Let’s get married.

That’s where I stopped.

The whole thrust of this type of story is supposed to be one of discovery and emotional investment. Instead, I get a Bollywood plot and a rambling story which heads in a predictable direction. I knew, without continuing, that I’d be faced with their hardships and children and overcoming whatever obstacles to soldier onward. There'd continue to be no details, no impact, no explanation of why things happen except in the mode of it's meant to be that way. Whatever.

I have no tolerance for that type of story, written in such broad strokes. For me, Glass Palace lacks the volume of detail and real-life emotion to make me care.

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