Sunday, September 16, 2007

more than a mouthful

Gifted tells the story of Rumi, fourteen going on fifteen. Born in Wales to Indian parents, she struggles to reconcile their conflicting demands. On one hand they want her to excel in British academic circles. But on the other they demand she show due respect to her blood heritage - complete with a lack of sex before the inevitable arranged marriage.

Gifted is also the story of Rumi’s parents. Her father who struggles to find the balance between love and discipline and who tends to treat his wife and friend as though they were also children. And her mother who tries to fit in despite a hankering for the country she left behind - a woman whose preoccupation with food quickly rubs off on Rumi, marking much of her inner thought with edible references and prompting her addiction to cumin seeds.

Gifted is also the story of Rumi the maths prodigy - more at home with numbers than people -

‘Under the burning tube lights, she attacked the numbers with speed and ferocity, as though she was playing Space Invaders, devouring the figures with the hunger in her belly and spitting out the remains.’

accelerated academically to Oxford, succeeding in exams but falling at all the basic hurdles of adolescence .

There is great strength in Nikita Lalwani’s characters and plot but fundamental weaknesses in her delivery. Vivid loops and twirls add colour to her prose -

‘It was a tart globule of thought, bitter as a gooseberry gobstopper, which she sucked, waiting for it to crack up into something she could chew, digest and understand.’

but she tends to over-describe nearly everything which bogs the story down. She also fell into the McEwan trap of trying to hard to tie up all the loose ends - and I feel the novel would have been stronger had it ended with the Brit-flick style finale, omitting the epilogue.

Where Mohsin Hamid gave us tasters and left us wanting more, Lalwani overheaps our plate at every course and offers such a vast menu that all our choices become spoilt. Any one of the major storylines in itself could have made a great novel (given a slightly lighter hand with the prose) - but all together I’m overfed and a little nauseous.

1 comment:

Kirsty said...

I think you've got the bogging down thing spot on. I didn't like this book as much as I wanted to and couldn't quite put my finger on what was wrong with it.