Shantaram! A book that could be edited with an axe


Just finishing Shantaram - fantastic romp. Bravo.

A few teeny criticisms:
1. Firstly - surely any legitimate editor would have taken a chainsaw to this book (which weighs in at 950 pages). I mean nine hundred pages... for a debut novel/ memoir? Yes, a lot happens - but please God and Allah couldn't it have happened in 450?

Axe mark one - hack out 90% of the cod philosophy - the prose verges on fluro-purple at points and bores you senseless with spurious and bombastic pseudo-indo-hippy nonsense.
Axe mark two - machete to the neck of 50% of unnecessary, obfuscatory, florid, bamboozling, inappropriate yet strangely entrancing adjectives.
Axe mark three - every time fear crawls out of the woodwork and grinds his blood into a whirling whirlpool of despair. CUT!
Axe mark four - each paragraph that says exactly what the preceding paragraph says only this time with a hint of menace!
Axe mark five - every "if only I'd known then what I know now". Greg - if life was like that we'd all be considerably happier and fewer people would die in car crashes - it's a weak device.
Axe mark six - every time someone smiles in an enigmatic or un-enigmatic way or smiles in a way that tells him that was the first time he knew that they loved him (150 pages at least)
Axe mark seven - each reminder that the Australian prison service is comprised of torturers and Nazi's ....
I could continue, but on to point two.

2. It's the biggest pile of self-mythologising, self-obsessed, unabashedly self-congratulatory and ego-centric tosh I've ever read.

He's a fantasist - lots might have happened to the guy - and it's amazing (almost unbelievable) to think that he went through all this. But his story is so heavily saturated in the rose-hued, honey-dripped love-fest of Indian honour and smiley happy people who just happen to be mass murderers, con-artists and gun-runners that only a moron (or Johnny Depp) wouldn't find it a trifle disconcerting.

It's like the longest PR puff piece in the world - first of all our hero (heroin addict and violent criminal) turns out to be a cross between Robin Hood and Mother Theresa, then Bombay becomes the city of love, Leopold's restaurant I assume threw him a few bob, the Indian mafia come out a bit rough around the edges - but y'know, 'earts of gold, everyone of 'em, bless em. Even the Mujahadin come out of their cave complexes smelling of roses and misunderstood.

I'm sure he's a nice guy who learnt valuable lessons from his extraordinary adventures - but people aren't this 'good'. The characters are so cardboard in their tortured complexity you think they'd been cut out of a cereal packet. There are about three genuinely unpleasant people in the book and, conveniently, they fit beautifully into a traditional narrative structure (and let's not get started on that!).

3. So why does this book incite such a rant? Well, firstly because it's held up as auto-biography - which implies some basis in fact; secondly I think it's because so many people seem to think that this is profound, significant and (scarily) that it's well-written.

Reviewers who should be embarrassed:
Daily Telegraph - 'A literary masterpiece'
Sunday Telegraph - 'Powerful and original'

Lets be honest, it's a gripping page-turner, an over-long schoolboy adventure, a racy romp in the classical tradition with guns, chases, treachery, despair, hope, comic relief, a spurned love interest, redemption, re-redemption, a war and a bucket-load of east-meets-west 'philosophising'. What it lacks in depth, subtlety or poetry it makes up for in 'poetry', pace and vivid descriptions of Bombay life.
It is good fun, if only epic in page length.

So - Yay for Shantaram which enters a glorious #3 in the "Internationally Best-selling Novels I Would Happily Burn" chart!
(Number two is that post-modern classic that redefines the concept of quality: Da Vinci Code)
(Number one is the worst book ever written by anyone ever, and I mean ever: The Celestine Prophecy)

Review in a line: If you loved The da Vinci Code you'll really love Shantaram.