Tourism by Nirpal Singh Dhaliwal

Take away the misanthropy, and you can hear a voice of exclusion
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The Independent Culture

The novel follows Puppy's efforts to snag Sarupa, hampered by his humble Southall origins. En route, he delivers acerbic descriptions of social strata that range from Hackney crack-dealers to guests at country-house weekends. These state-of-the-nation commentaries are not uplifting, though they can be diverting. Dhaliwal has said that he mined Michel Houellebecq for Puppy's misanthropy, but these uncensored takes on cultural difference and sexual mores lack the Frenchman's brutal finesse.

Puppy's railings from the margins instead recall the less ironic discourses of pre-Beatnik writers such as Henry Miller. Perhaps this should not surprise, because Puppy's creator has had little direct engagement with the liberal movements of the 1960s, including feminism, which are Houellebecq's target.

It follows that the novel's graphic depictions of sex are ambiguous. In his insincere couplings with Sophie and his visits to prostitutes, Puppy values sex as a fundamental force that obviates all other norms, and this valuation appears to lack mediation by modern history. Call this occidental bias if you will, but in Tourism cultural hybridity has produced a curious reprise.

Some of the strongest material comes when Tourism stops attitudinising, in Puppy's descriptions of his family life. He kisses and hugs his grown-up younger brother Hari as a matter of course, and Hari openly hero-worships Puppy. Such fraternal affection is as absent from the lives of the majority of white Britons as Hari's arranged marriage and its accompaniments - rancorous dowry dissension and all.

Dhaliwal could do with a better editor: most of his prose is clean and unforced, but it can lurch into pulp and the ending is poorly constructed. Tourism has received publicity because the author's wife has aired her marital problems in columns, but the book should be judged on its own idiosyncratic merits. What Dhaliwal can do is conjure a voice of exclusion. This is rare in the literary world, and he should develop it.

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