Kim served as inspiration for my novel "The Game", the seventh entry in the Mary Russell series. Feel free to come and join in the discussion, even iKim served as inspiration for my novel "The Game", the seventh entry in the Mary Russell series. Feel free to come and join in the discussion, even if you come across this after December has passed--the discussion will remain open indefinitely for new thoughts and comments. Click for more information about the Virtual Book Club
Oh, this is such a wonderful book. Coming-of-age tale and historical treatise; spy thriller and travel narrative; rousing adventure coupled with a sleek and subtle tale of the meeting of ancient traditions—and all of it told in a rotund and glorious English that would make Shakespeare feel right at home. Read it aloud: "He sat, in defiance of municipal orders, astride the gun Zam-Zammah…" The short patter of a two-word phrase: when used to open a book it is a vigorous and active statement, not some paired monosyllable made feeble by surrounding text. The phrase, tucked apart by the comma, is followed by the perfect juxtaposition of defiance and municipal orders: the mind's eye is immediately shown a small brown urchin facing down the cumbersome, pale, foreign tools of white authority. Then comes the drawn-out adverb astride: a mere eight words into the story, and we receive our first intimation that this creature who sits will turn out to straddle much more than the barrel of a big gun. And then the personification of that gun, Zam-Zammah, a name that fills the mouth from teeth to soft palate.
Prose that swells the chest and engages the mind. And I'll bet the bastard didn't even fiddle endlessly with that line in order to get it right.
Rudyard Kipling breathed the air of India for his formative years. He was an Englishman, who never doubted the superiority of the British way of life, or of the British person. And yet, Kim is infused with the opposite, the native's good-humored willingness to go along with the Sahib because after all, the poor white man needs to think himself superior, and it doesn't hurt to permit him, does it?
Thus, Kipling's characters are both caricature and fully realized individuals: his Babu is every upstart Bengali who came up against the Raj and failed, although not quite utterly—and his Babu is a man with enough stout self-regard to play the role of an upstart Bengali who came up against the Raj and failed, because that role is a most useful disguise when dealing with men of the West, who see the world in two dimensions.
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is an illustration of the dark side of the MFA industry, where young writers may receive the lesson that cleverness is allThe Story of Edgar Sawtelle is an illustration of the dark side of the MFA industry, where young writers may receive the lesson that cleverness is all and the story itself must be made to serve the needs of the artistry of prose. No doubt about it: Wroblewski writes beautifully. But shaping a story like this around Hamlet does violence to both, and in the end just creates a bizarre hybrid: the cute tragedy.
I wrote more about the book on my blog, Mutterings
The first seven-eights of the book I'd rate as four stars; the mess of an ending knocks it to two.