30 August 2012

he Guide, by R.K. Narayan

A few years ago, I was in a friend's apartment for the first time, perusing his bookshelves (as I am wont to do) and discovered a whole row of Narayan's books. I had vaguely heard of the author before, but not in details, so the quantity of his texts on display piqued my interest. Of all of them, for some reason this is the one that especially called to me. As the back of the book described it, "Mistaken for a holy man, [the protagonist] plays the part and succeeds so well that God himself intervenes to put Raju's newfound sanctity to the test."As far as one sentence summaries go, that one seems about right. As I read, I kept being reminded of Tadeusz Konwicki's Minor Apocalypse, which is also a kind of reluctant holy man tale. I guess it's been done many a time (We Have a Pope, which I watched awhile ago and LOVED, also comes to mind), but there's something about the trope that appeals to me. Unlike those other two, in this one the devoted followers play a more crucial role, which makes the book a somewhat more interesting variant (who is the more holy, the pretender or the one who can muster faith? Have you been tricked if your faith is so strong as to make someone else holy? Is divinity an essence or a function of the relationship between people?).

What I also found sort of intriguing about this book was the narrative style, which combined the first and the third person voices, interspersed - a narrator telling the story, and then the memories of the main character, interwoven. I guess it's not so uncommon a device, but for some reason I found it somewhat jarring in this work, the way it blithely moved between the two all like "I can tell this story however I want, so there!" But I may have been oversensitive as a result of reading all these various texts hunting for things to teach (see previous entry).

Anyhow, overall, an interesting and enjoyable book - somewhat on the dry side, and not a must-read, but I definitely enjoyed it.

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