Hazel McHaffie

Trawling for pearls

Time is not on my side this week (London on Friday; Edinburgh Saturday; Somerset Monday; Devon Tuesday …) so here’s a quick thought before I get back to other demands, domestic and professional.

In my former life I was a researcher in the world of medical ethics. I rather liked this definition of a researcher: someone who sees what everyone else sees, but thinks what no-one else has thought.

Now I’m a novelist, I’m struck by the number of times that authors too capture thoughts and ideas that I haven’t really stopped to analyse. At the moment I’m struggling rather with Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss. (I try to tackle Booker winners every so often). But her descriptions sometimes stop me in my tracks. Here she’s describing the cook’s humble mud hut:

Two photographs hung on the wall – one of himself and his wife on their wedding day, one of Biju dressed to leave home. They were poor-people photographs, of those unable to risk wasting a picture, for while all over the world people were now posing with an abandon never experienced by the human race before, here they were still standing X-ray stiff.
Once, Sai had taken a picture of the cook with Uncle Potty’s camera, snuck up on him as he minced an onion, and she had been surprised to see that he felt deeply betrayed. He ran to change into his best clothes, a clean shirt and trousers, then positioned himself before the National Geographics bound in leather, a backdrop he found suitable

Now, you could just skim this on your way to finding out what happens to the cook and his son – if, that is, you have the grit and determination to persist with reading this rather odd story. (I keep hoping the pace will quicken – no luck yet). But pause a few moments, re-read this little passage, and … What a wealth of perspicacity. What fascinating conclusions. Apparently just tossed in casually.

So I guess I have salvaged something from this laborious read. Sigh. I know, I know. I could just give up on the book. I really must do something about this obsessive habit.

I’m (well, it’ll be DJ really) going to try to pre-set the posting of this blog, but if it doesn’t work, like last time, it might be a day late this week. Apologies.


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