Retro Review: The Pleasure Seekers by Tishani Doshi

Here’s a recent review of mine from the Irish Examiner:

The Pleasure Seekers by Tishani-Doshi

The Pleasure Seekers by Tishani-Doshi

Cultural crash course 

The Pleasure Seekers 

Tishani Doshi

Bloomsbury; 16:99

Review: Val Nolan

Babo Patel is the first member of a deeply traditional family to leave India and fly all the way to London. Ostensibly there to study, it is not long before he is doing everything his strict Gujarati mother would ‘rather see him go blind’ than indulge in: eating meat, dancing with girls, smoking cigarettes, and downing schnapps by the half bottle. Worse still, he falls in love with the ‘cream-skinned’ Siân Jones, a Welsh valley girl ‘with a twirl of ribbon in her hair fluttering like a red monarch butterfly’.

Thirty years before anyone coins the term ‘hybrid-family,’ Babo and Siân’s quirky, occasionally calamitous marriage of east and west trundles from the late 1960s to the twenty-first century like a big-hearted juggernaut. Though the culture clash trope is a little stock, it is a lovely story, and, to her credit, Tishani Doshi injects fresh life into even the most hackneyed of Anglo-Indian clichés.

An award-winning poet from Chennai – what was formally Madras – Doshi has drawn heavily on her own background for The Pleasure Seekers. She shares with Babo and Siân’s daughters a mixed Welsh/Indian heritage, and the early, enforced separation of the young lovers is modeled on a similar period in the lives of her parents.

However this is no biography. Throughout the novel, Doshi demonstrates a natural ear for language which seduces the reader with evocative, unexpected turns that convey far more than mere statement ever could. Babo’s realization that he has fallen in love is marked by an extraordinary ‘ba-ba-boom, ba-ba-boom, ba-ba-boom-boom-boom,’ and what could be a mawkish moment instead becomes appropriately inexplicable.

There is a liveliness to the story of the Patel-Joneses too, one which allows the author to display a healthy sense of humor. Yet the laughs here are earned, relying on character more than cleverness. It does not hurt that a boisterous extended family bursts from the page with exuberance, or that Doshi depicts even its most obscure members with the conviction of a seasoned novelist. At times it is almost difficult to believe this is her first foray into the world of literary fiction.

An elegant grasp of plot is also demonstrated by the slow, organic growth of The Pleasure Seekers, expanding from a tightly focused cross-cultural love story at the beginning to a sweeping, multi-generational tale by the book’s conclusion. It functions as a complete unit, the reckless energy of infatuation and defiance which saturates the opening section balanced by the warm, complex love Babo and Siân share for their disparate progeny, the thoughtful, collected Mayuri, and the tempestuous, romantic Bean.

The latter, easily read as a fictionalization of the author herself, eventually follows her father’s example and leaves for England. There she is hoping to find ‘the kind of love Babo and Siân had found in London’, but is instead disappointed with empty, messy affairs. Her misadventures counterpoint those of her father, who, expecting nothing, discovers everything he ever wanted.

A generous, charming novel, The Pleasure Seekers succeeds because of the ‘strong, stubborn hearts’ of Doshi’s characters. Siân, who leaves behind her ‘meager and ancient’ Wales to follow her new husband to Madras, is impressively adaptable, while Bean, travelling the opposite direction, is a tragic figure unwilling to give up her search for a fulfillment she can never achieve. While the book’s love-conquers-all theme may deter more cynical readers, it is at least consistent: ‘Love can’t be fear, love can’t be violence, love can’t be anything we name or can’t bear.’ Ba-ba-boom-boom-boom indeed.

This article originally published in The Irish Examiner, July 3rd 2010, Weekend, p.28. 

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One Response to Retro Review: The Pleasure Seekers by Tishani Doshi

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