MJ Nicholls's Reviews > Interpreter of Maladies

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
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Aug 05, 11

bookshelves: short-stories, other-parts-of-the-universe, the-art-of-loathing, distaff
Read from August 05 to 06, 2011

This collection won the Pen/Hemingway Award, the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and— most impressively—the New Yorker Debut of the Year. Oo-wee! When a book receives this amount of awards, it’s a) lazy—why give two prestigious prizes to the SAME book? b) going to give the reader unrealistic expectations and c) a conspiracy of critics. This collection arrived at a time when an Indian writer hadn’t been given a Pulitzer or important award, and the committee wanted to expand its reach outside middle-class white male Americans. The stories, mercifully, still contain American settings, but have enough watered down Indianness in them to appeal to a mass market, and enough simple sentiment and sentence structure to universalize love loss sadness relationships and so on. Oh and Jhumpia is also a woman. A woman hadn’t won in a while. Important. The stories in this collection are fine but all utilise the same straightforward, overly descriptive, consciously “traditional” narrative voice, one that doesn’t take risks or explore interesting forms or ideas, falling back on saccharine or poetic tropes to go for the heartstrings and not the intellect, using human dramas in far-off homelands to manipulate the immigrant reader rather than new or novel techniques. This is not to say she isn’t a talented writer. Only I feel violently this mode of writing is beating a middlebrow, Oprah-shaped drum, and doesn’t do much except warm a heart or state the obvious.
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Comments (showing 1-15 of 15) (15 new)

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message 1: by Tuck (new)

Tuck ouch


message 2: by Nate D (new)

Nate D I think I shall continue steering clear of this. (I guess really there was no danger anyway, it's rather outside my current pursuits.)


message 3: by MJ (new) - rated it 2 stars

MJ Nicholls Nate wrote: "I think I shall continue steering clear of this. (I guess really there was no danger anyway, it's rather outside my current pursuits.)"

Wise move. I only read it to get it off my desk. Another thirty-four to go.


message 4: by Nate D (new)

Nate D heh, my book piles have crept half the room, so no such end in sight.


message 5: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich Nice beat down ha. Good to know I can keep ignoring this book, your review confirmed my suspicions on it. Shame the politics of awards committees get in the way.


message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

really love your reviews MJ. keep it up.


message 7: by MJ (new) - rated it 2 stars

MJ Nicholls Thanks, homies. Beware the Rise of the Middlebrow: books with floral designs, semi-artistic B&W photos, or pastoral snapshots on their covers are sperms of the devil.


message 8: by MJ (new) - rated it 2 stars

MJ Nicholls And in this case, candles.


message 9: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich MJ wrote: "Thanks, homies. Beware the Rise of the Middlebrow: books with floral designs, semi-artistic B&W photos, or pastoral snapshots on their covers are sperms of the devil."

I'll keep the MJ Law in mind whenever shopping for new books now. Pastoral snapshots, so true.


message 10: by MJ (new) - rated it 2 stars

MJ Nicholls Scott wrote: "See also Olive Kitteridge "

Eww, that one has every type of horrible cover. Perfect example.


message 11: by MJ (new) - rated it 2 stars

MJ Nicholls "This bestselling work tells the quintessentially American story of the unsolved murder of a farm family that haunts the small, white town of Pluto, North Dakota, as well as the nearby Ojibwe reservation."

Sounds like any (or every) Pulitzer prize winner so far. Grumble.


message 12: by Tuck (new)

Tuck you could read 10 louise erdrich books in a row and find something to like about all of them, and most probably some tropes beaten dead, over and over. i personally love her books, but many do not.


message 13: by MJ (last edited Aug 16, 2012 01:43PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

MJ Nicholls There is something about the name Louise Erdrich that is so unbelievably unthrilling and unspectacular I actually need to lie down for a bit to recover. She sounds like a divorce attorney specialising in child welfare from Wisconsin or Ohio or one of those landlubbing maltloafy middle states. She pulls her hair back in a tight bob and listens to furious couples sneer at each other all day, secretly hoping the mothers get custody cause her daddy was a pinhead and is this too much speculation here?


message 14: by Tuck (new)

Tuck no but really, she is pretty kick ass indian lady, started her own book store up there in the great white north, even though most folks can barely change the channel on their tee vee. and she works hard for her tribe and local community. but yeah, her name DOES seem lawyerish. go have a lie down there mj


message 15: by MJ (new) - rated it 2 stars

MJ Nicholls Oh she does sound awesome, you're right. I'm a little too Joycedrunk over here to be rational.


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