marissa's Reviews > The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach
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's review
Nov 20, 2009

did not like it
Recommended for: clueless people interested in an exoticized India through the eyes of white racists

This book caused me actual, literal pain.

The jacket describes it as the story of Dr. Ravi Kapoor, a Brit whose desire to oust his lecherous, disgusting father-in-law from his home leads to his concocting the idea of setting up a retirement home for expats in India. A "brilliant comedy of manners" is supposed to ensue.

Well, it never comes. Dr. Kapoor appears only to bookend the story. The rest of it follows the lives of a bunch of racist old white people, doggedly thinking their dreadful racist thoughts without a smear of understanding or empathy. The worst of them sexually assaults an Indian girl because his head is full of ideas about the tantric wantonness of Indian women (backed up by what Moggach banally refers to as the "Karma Sutra", multiple times); the supposedly best of them thinks fondly that this same Indian girl's hair reminds her of her dog's shiny black coat. That sums up the functions of Indian characters in this book. They are either exotic sex objects or humble pets, unwitting and unwilling objects of desire or model minorities who submit to the white Britishers' prejudices and whims.

No aspect of India escapes Moggach's derisive, Othering, patronizing pen: she insistently refers to hijra as "eunuchs" (which they are not); Indians are constantly, explicitly fetishized (with lingering, uncomfortable descriptions of the brownness of their intimate skin); there is a running list of Indian products that are inferior to Western ones (plastic, sticky notes, plaster bandages). Moggach references Black people in two ways — thugs who attack one of the old women, and multiple uses of the word "nigger" — and includes many casually scornful references to Jewish and gay people and of course uses "Muslim" as synonymous with "terrorist".

This is supposed to be a fun, frothy read. I hunted down reviews when I was done and found that they all lauded Moggach for writing something so witty and insightful and touching. I find it hard to see any wit or insight or compassion in a book that refers to my Hindu god Ganesh as "the sort of thing you won at a fairground and then wished you didn't have to take home."

Just typing that out made me feel sick again.

And yes, I know that people who enjoyed this book would probably say, "Oh, but you're supposed to think the old people are racist! That's why the book is a black comedy, because it shows people with all their flaws!" To that I say, twaddle. If your characters — your sympathetic characters, the ones that readers are supposed to relate to and feel affection for — are raging and unrepentant bigots who are exactly as racist at the end of the book as they were at the beginning, you are not writing a comedy of manners. You are not writing an acute observation of humanity (unless to you, "humanity" refers only to white people, which I suspect it does). You are writing a hurtful piece of trash that promotes wretched and insidious stereotypes, and you are too immersed in your own ignorant privilege to even see it.

This is quite possibly the worst book I have ever read. I have never before encountered something so blithely, smugly cruel that didn't actually identify itself as hate literature up front.
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Comments (showing 1-29 of 29) (29 new)

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message 1: by Astraea (new)

Astraea I've been seeing a lot of damn ballyhoo for this book and decided not to read it when I saw the author was white. White Brits writing about India, that's going to go down just lovely.


marissa It is SO distressing to me that people find this book to be some sort of charming whimsy, when the author CLEARLY used India -- and worse, Indian *people* -- as nothing but a dehumanized backdrop. Every time I think about it I get grossed out again!

message 3: by Adam (new) - rated it 1 star

Adam In addition, and I did not mention it in my own recent review, the placing of quotes from venerable Indian writers at the beginning of each chapter seems gratuitously distasteful and disresctful to those authors.

marissa Ugh, I'd forgotten that part of it. Disrespectful and distasteful indeed, and let's add disingenuous on account of Moggach using their words in an effort to legitimize her own writing and make it seem like an insider perspective. I am, however, glad to read in your review that the movie was better, since it stars many actors whose work I enjoy!

Ailish Thank you for your review. I think you summed it up very nicely.

message 6: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne Thank you for this review. I will not waste my time reading this book.

message 7: by Kristin (new)

Kristin haven't read the book, but just saw the movie and it was wonderful. can't believe a book would be bad if the movie was beautiful.....not are what to do now.

message 8: by Adam (new) - rated it 1 star

Adam Kristin wrote: "haven't read the book, but just saw the movie and it was wonderful. can't believe a book would be bad if the movie was beautiful.....not are what to do now."

Maybe the film-makers didn't read the book too carefully!

message 9: by Jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jo Stephen Someone's awfully bitter. And someone's awfully prejudiced against white people.

marissa Jo wrote: "Someone's awfully bitter. And someone's awfully prejudiced against white people."

Oh, really? Who would that be? I'm certain I'd love to hear all about it from somebody who decides to leave personal insults in response to a book review!!

Sharon I like your review. I am 30% through the book and am increasingly disappointed. You see, the movie is wonderful; I watched it three times. Yes, it is seen through the eyes of white Brits but it shows them discovering the beauty and joy that lies beneath the surface. I say this as a non-Indian who has been hopelessly in love with India for 40 years. Give it a go!

marissa I wanted the movie to be good since it has a lot of actors I enjoy in it, so I'm very glad to hear that it's done away with the problematic tone of the book! Also, being of Trini heritage, I am biased in favour of a positive review from a Guyanese person such as yourself. :)

message 13: by Jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jo Stephen These are not 'reviews' of the book but prejudiced diatribes against the author, and that is sad. The BOOK is captivating from the start, well-written in bringing the reader into the lives of its protagonists. One can easily identify with Evelyn's bewilderment in her widowhood, with Norman's increasing sadness over his still-young soul inhabiting an aging vehicle. With succinct clarity, Moggach identifies the pitfalls of British healthcare, and the 'netherworld' of aging citizens who wish only to remain relevant. An excellent read producing much conversation and thought, but not the kind found in most of the above reviews.

marissa Good God, are you so threatened by one book review that you have to keep coming back here to insist that anybody who didn't like the novel is wrong wrong wrong? "One" cannot easily identify with the characters in this book. I did not. Clearly many other people did not. Deal with it and move on, Jo.

message 15: by Jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jo Stephen Take your own advice; this book is beloved by many, as they did indeed identify with the characters. Your intolerance of a different opinion indicates disturbance and prejudice of the worst kind.

marissa You're not making sense. I wrote the review three years ago when I read the book and the only reason I'm even talking about it again is because people commented due to the movie. Seriously -- I didn't like the book, you did, move past this. It's ironic that you're accusing me of intolerance of different opinions when you're the one who seems incapable of accepting that I didn't like the book.

message 17: by Sharon (last edited Jul 27, 2012 08:25AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Sharon Oh, great to meet a Trini here! I spent part of my childhood in POS as my mum worked for the WI Federation. And spent many holidays in Tobago.
Funny, because of the movie I started out by giving this book 4 stars. I'm now down to two. I can't bellieve the cliches and misinformation! NO, Hindus do NOT believe that people can be randomly reborn as animals!!! Sheesh! Attaining a human body is a HUGE step and it's really not easy to fall back, according to the teaching.

I feel that all the Marigold "guests" are turning up their noses at India. In the movie they are all falling in love with India, except one.

message 18: by Sharon (last edited Jul 27, 2012 08:44AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Sharon As an over-60 woman I also found nothing to identify with in the ageing characters. Here, too, the movie shows us the positive side of growing old.

Anyway, once I have finished the book I will write my own review.

Sharon Finished the book. The only resemblance it bears to the movie is the premise and the names of the characters!

message 20: by Ishani (new)

Ishani Thank you for the reviews. I will avoid the book, and watch the movie.

Janski Racist? It's satire. The racists are ridiculed. How could that possibly have been missed?

marissa It wasn't missed. I already said in my review that an attempt at satire fails if no lessons were learned and if the story punches down instead of up. The racists were valourized and made sympathetic, while the people of colour were made into objects and sub-humans.

Janski You are confusing satire with allegory if you think satire must teach a lesson or “punch” in any particular direction. Moggach employs satire to say, with irony, humour and gentle ridicule, the same things that you voiced in malice, spite and hatred.

Each of the review’s exaggerated denunciations can be disputed by those with different points of reference, and you will convince no one of Moggach’s evil intent to personally hurt you, or Indian people, except the like- and small-minded. Do you appreciate that all the characters, British and Indian, although from different cultures, are Caucasians (i.e., the same “race”)? Or that the first quotation, “The Truth shall set you free”, attributed to Swami Purna, is also found in the Bible? Irony abounds in the book, and in this discussion.

Why deliberately insult Goodreads people by calling it a book “for clueless people interested in an exoticized India through the eyes of white racists”? Is that your attempt at “identifying . . . hate literature upfront”? Does it really surprise you that such a rancorous review is disputed? You wrote to insult; unsurprisingly, people took issue with that.

You may wish to read Sathnam Sanghera, who is thanked by Moggach in the frontispiece, if you can only appreciate satire from “people of colour”. Hope you enjoy it.

marissa Lady, please go on with your life. I promise you that nobody's keeping score of who defends the book and who hates it and you can keep on loving this book if that's what gets you up in the morning and on the computer writing incensed screeds. I wrote this review FIVE YEARS AGO and white people keep coming here to tell me I was mean to Moggach as if she's paying your bills or something, sheesh.

Janski Goodreads does keep score of exactly those things by means of an algorithm; look at the question mark beside the “sort” tab for the explanation on the “default” sort. For whatever reason, your “old” review comes up second for this book, and no doubt contributes to your perception that “white people keep coming here...”. I did not verify the date, nor would many people.

If you genuinely dislike the attention, perhaps Goodreads can change the order of your review in the "default" setting somehow.

message 26: by Jade (new) - added it

Jade Well the film did not leave me feeling this way at all so I decided to get the book, hoping it doesn't either!

message 27: by Micky (new)

Micky Sahi Thank you for the review. You saved me a lot of time. I am an Indian and a Hindu and if you found this offensive then I am pretty sure I will find it too (that thing about Ganesha was not a very nice thing to write about).

Going for the movie because i love the casting, I hear the second movie is also out, anyone watch it?

message 28: by Josefa (new)

Josefa Wann I would never not read a book based on a review of someone I don't know or care to know. I can make up my own mind. Thank you.

marissa ??? That's what Goodreads is about, people sharing their reviews of books?? I don't give a good goddamn about what you read or not.

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