Picador, £12.99 Order for £11.69 (free p&p)from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
The Sly Company of People Who Care, By Rahul Bhattacharya
Guyana novel flows like a river
Wednesday 13 July 2011
Rivers and waterfalls flow through the mesmerising narrative of this beguiling debut novel by Indian journalist and cricket writer Rahul Bhattacharya. Guyana in South America, where the novel is set, is known as "the land of many waters". Eschewing a more conventional form, the plot runs as a river might, carrying the reader along its compelling flux of stories.
A 26-year-old Indian journalist decides to give up his job and travel to a country where he hopes to "escape the deadness of his life". First, he arrives in Georgetown, capital of Guyana, with its old colonial architecture of whitewashed wooden houses.
There he tries to re-establish the shaky architecture of his existence. "There was evangelical fervour at dayclean, to use the beautiful Guyanese for dawn", he writes in a typical sentence (the author spent a year living in the country). "To lie beside the cloud in the perfect dewy dayclean was something approaching bliss".
The story powerfully juxtaposes joy with horror. Nature is majestically described, and Bhattacharya skilfully sketches the interactions between humans and a bewilderingly beautiful landscape. This interaction can be at times cruel, and at times cathartic. The moment the narrator glimpses a great waterfall he meets a wall of "something like an emotion", causing "a momentary reconsideration of the world".
The novel has an entertaining cast of motley characters: from the man with a "face like shattered dreams" to Fatgirl. With the delicate yet hardy Jan, the narrator embarks on a life-changing adventure into the interior and across borderlands. "Navigation is the artful handling of channels," he finds: "too much water and the vessel might be thrown off balance, too little and it might crunch against rock".
Bhattacharya displays an artful handling of his own narrative. The tributaries of stories open up into the main swell of narrative. The greatest joy is in the novel's unexpected twists and turns, so the reader shares the narrator's wonder at the flash of toucan, the sudden glint of a river, or a floating blue butterfly. The author sheds great light into this little-known corner of the planet, as well as forcing us into a "reconsideration of the world" and of the delicate ecosystem which makes the whole thing hang together.
Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beachart
Arts & Ents blogs
Comic-Con 2014: Sherlock's Benedict Cumberbatch and Game of Thrones' George RR Martin among attendees
Hercules, review: Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson takes centre stage in preposterous film
Best movies on Netflix UK and US: 32 films that will end your endless scrolling
Star Wars 7: Plot details 'leak', with sequel's opening sequence and premise revealed
Game of Thrones Sansa Stark actress Sophie Turner stars in Bastille video for 'Oblivion'
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Vladimir Putin is given 'one last chance' to end hostilities in Ukraine
The 'scroungers’ fight back: The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Ukrainian military jet was flying close to passenger plane before it was shot down, says Russian officer
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Massive rise in sale of British arms to Russia
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: victims’ bodies bundled in black bags and loaded onto trains