Taking a break from Raskolnikov, et al, for the weekend, I read V. S. Naipaul's The Mystic Masseur. What an enjoyable short book it was!
The novel traces the ascent of Ganesh Ramsumair, an Indian Hindu in Trinidad. He fails at being a schoolteacher. Goes home to his father's funeral. Meets Ramlogan, the shopkeeper, and eventually marries Ramlogan's daughter Leela. Ganesh retires to the country to think and to write. He eventually makes his place in the world by becoming what Trinidad needs at the time: a mystic. He eventually becomes a politician (slightly leftist), until he is finally co-opted by the colonial government and become part of the system.
The book is filled with the patois of Trinidad, and it is easy to like the characters. They are drawn with a minimum of brushstrokes, but they are completely compelling. The story is funny, but the ultimate outcome is more than a little sad.
Some of the reviews I read referred to his "Dickensian" cast of characters--and I can see that. In some cases they are almost caricatures rather than characters. But the humor is still so gentle that even the rascals are lovable.
Short, short novel. If you have a spare weekend and want to read something completely different, this might be worth your while.
Here are a couple of things I liked from the book:
'Leela,' Ganesh said, 'the boy want to know how much book it have here.'
'Let me see,' Leela said, and hitched up the broom to her waistband. She started to count off the fingers of her left hand. 'Four hundred Everyman, two hundred Penguin--six hundred. Six hundred, and one hundred Reader's Library, make seven hundred. I think with all the other book it have about fifteen hundred good book here.'
The taxi-driver whistled, and Ganesh smiled.
'They is all yours, pundit?' I asked.
'Is my only vice,' Ganesh said. 'Only vice. I don't smoke. I don't drink. But I must have my books. And, mark you, every week I going to San Fernando to buy more, you know. How much book I buy last week, Leela?'
'Only three, man,' she said. 'But they was big books, big big books. Six to seven inches altogether.'
'Seven inches,' Ganesh said.
'Yes, seven inches,' Leela said.
I supposed Leela was Ganesh's wife because she went on to say, with mock irritation, 'That is all he good for. You know how much I does tell him not to read all the time. But you can't stop him from reading. Night and day he reading.'
Gotta love a man who buys books by the inch!
And then later in the book, three women, Leela (Ganesh's wife), Suruj Mooma (the wife of Ganesh's good friend), and The Great Belcher (Ganesh's aunt) are all talking while they are cooking:
Leela told Suruj Mooma and The Great Belcher, 'Is just what I are expecting from that husband of mine. Sometimes these man and them does behave as if they lose their senses.'
Suruj Mooma stirred the cauldron of dal with a ladle a yard long. 'Ah, my dear. But what we go do without them?'
Just what I think.