Ailish's Reviews > The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach
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's review
Jun 16, 2012

did not like it
bookshelves: don-t-touch-with-a-barge-pole
Read from June 04 to 16, 2012

** spoiler alert ** I was disappointed with this book. The premise was great, however the story failed to progress and the writing was very uneven, some of it being beautiful, while much of it was needlessly vulgar and tawdry.

Ravi, a competent, sensitive doctor, is slowly being ground down by the decaying British NHS and his father-in-law Norman, a dirty old man 'straight out of Benny Hill' who comes to stay with them after being thrown out of a nursing home for sexually assaulting a nurse, bringing his disgusting personal habits and taste for pornography with him. Norman's presence is putting a serious strain on Ravi's marriage, and when Ravi meets up with an entrepreneurial Indian cousin, a new idea is hatched for a successful business and for dispatching the Aged P. Just as so many other things are being outsourced to India, why not aged care? A retirement home in India, with cheap, plentiful labour, low costs, and sunshine, to accommodate the elderly people for whom Britain no longer has a place.

Gradually other lonely, elderly Britishers with limited budgets and sad stories sign on for the idea and make their way to Bangalore. Once there, the residents of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel begin to make new lives for themselves.

The first three of four pages were really beautiful, but after that the author provides too much detail about Norman's habits to make for pleasant reading. The introduction to Evelyn, Muriel and Dorothy was also beautifully presented. After that, however, it was largely downhill.

This book is billed as being comic, but, while it has flashes of humor, I didn't find it funny at all.

What really destroyed the book for me was the author's harshly explicit references to assorted sex acts and functions that littered the novel, particularly the last third, unaccompanied by any connection with love or self-giving. Evelyn's desperately lonely 49 year old daughter, Theresa, who has been wandering round India seeking spiritual solace and enlightenment finds 'happiness' and a new self in a two-week torrid fling with a dodgy English stranger. Admitting that no love is involved on either side, she is affirmed by being sexually desirable, by the experience of 'rapture' and by accepting that the best attitude is one of 'easy come easy go' instead of trying to form 'relationships', an attitude which has previously hampered her in the past.

Norman, whose motive for agreeing to the move to India is his belief that he will find voluptuous sensual women eager to meet his needs, spends much of the book attempting to find them, and gets his comeuppance when he has a heart attack and dies after a nasty shock in a brothel. It seems that this is supposed to be funny. I had hoped that having included him in the story the author would have him come to discover some sort of respect for women, or at least for himself, by the end, but he is just one continuous noxious presence that detracts from anything positive that could be said about the book.

The attitude to marriage is almost entirely negative. The marriage of Ravi and his wife teeters on the brink until the end of the book, and while it appears to be improving, there is no indication that it will last. Ravi's brother-in-law is cowed and miserable before his wife and his mother. The hotel manager is completely miserable in his marriage (this again is supposed to be amusing), but his problems are resolved when his marriage breaks up. Charles, Evelyn's son, is stuck in a miserable marriage and is despised by his spoilt children. Towards the end of the novel he gathers up the resolve to escape, remaining in India to take up with an Indian hotel-greeter, however within the month he is collected by his bossy wife and returns home. Keith, Theresa's find, has managed to lose track of his fifth wife and her children in his sudden flight from the British police for shady business dealings, and isn't remotely interested in finding her. Jean and Douglas Ainslie are envied as the only married couple at the Hotel and they seem to have the perfect marriage. When Jean is prostrated by grief on discovering her son's homosexuality Douglas, after more than 40 years of marriage suddenly discovers that he doesn't care whether she is happy or not, and in fact doesn't like her at all and has never really loved her. At the end of the book Jean returns to England while Douglas gives Evelyn a happy ending by marrying her.

Add to that a patronising and objectifying attitude towards Indian men and women, Indian products, Indian business and industry, and ridicule of the Hindu religion.

Not a good read.

What I did like about this book was the initial presentation of the gentle widow Evelyn, the cockney racist Muriel, and the retired Dorothy. Evelyn is portrayed as a kind, thoughtful person with love to lavish on the desperately poor children outside the hotel. Also enjoyable and amusing is the friendship she arranges between the young people who work at the call centre across the road with the residents of the Hotel (although even that is spoilt by Norman's groping of the girls). I admired Muriel's courage, as she faces a trip to India after a lifetime of fear, ignorance and resentment of people from other racial backgrounds who have come to London, a violent mugging, the ransacking of her home, near destitution and the loss of her son. I also admired her love for her son and her faith that he would come to look for her, and I loved the fact that Keith, in all other respects a repellent individual, really does love Muriel, worries over her and is overjoyed to find her again.

These elements, however, were just not enough to make me appreciate this book.
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09/21/2016 marked as: read

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