I’d put my name on the waiting list at the library for The Finkler Question and the librarian told me that thirty other people were after it. I read it and thought it was a bit of a dog’s breakfast. The other night I bought The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid from a charity shop as I needed something to read on the bus. This did what a novel should do, that is, made me want go on reading it. If anyone thinks that means I must mostly read thrillers, no, I want to go on reading Trollope, Tolstoy, Thackeray, George Eliot, Orwell. The seductive ability of a novel to make me want to stick around with it is ultimately inexplicable, but as in a love affair, it is the indispensable thing. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a shapely, economical novel about someone who fails to be a rootless cosmopolitan or a happy immigrant to the USA. He is rooted, he finds, in his home (Lahore), his family, his Pakistani patriotism, his religion, even, though that’s not dwelt on.
When I first picked it up it reminded me a bit of a translation of a French novel eg Simenon’s The Man Who Watched Trains Go By or something by Camus (can’t remember which) when the protagonist sits at a table and speaks to someone else who is never quite identified and never speaks himself. So it’s done in the first person but with the street life and food of Lahore brought in, a little, I suppose, like the novel in letters. The feeling of a translation was given by the rather formal English with the occasional Raj leftovers of expressions - “ruffians” for instance. It’s a novel of disenchantment with the USA and globalisation. I found the love affair a bit too romantic to be true - I‘m told it‘s allegorical, the woman Erica is “America“ - but it was far too detailed and her being in a loony bin was reminiscent of 70s novels that dealt with mad girls. But I did like its cleverness and elegance, and the emotion that ran through the book - of a confused anger and resentment, those great bases of fascism - was beautifully conveyed and scary as well because there aren’t practical politics to combat it except of a grand monstrous kind. Give ‘em Kashmir. Let them defeat India in a war. That will make them feel better.