Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Thing About Thugs

The Thing About Thugs
Author Tabish Khair
Release date: July 24, 2012
Amir Ali leaves his village in Bihar to travel to London with an English captain, William Meadows, to whom he narrates the story of his life the story of a murderous thug. While Meadows tries to analyse the strange cult of the Indian Thug, a group of Englishmen sets out to prove the inherent difference between cultures and people by examining their skulls with bizarre consequences. Set in Victorian London, this story of different voices from different places draws intricate lines of connection from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century, between England and India, across individual and cultural differences. Known for his refusal to fit his work into established diasporic ,subalternist or post-colonialist narrative traditions, in The Thing About Thugs, Khair finally engages with these traditions by subtly and ironically deploying echoes from Victorian literature, ranging from Charles Dickens to P.M. Taylor's Confessions of a Thug and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.
Review:  Much like what happens in baseball, I believe I've fallen into a reading slump. This summer's advanced readers have been rather disappointing.  All seduced me with mention of Victorian London, but all failed to capture my attention. The Thing About Thugs is told in different voices by three different narratives, one of which is set in an annoying script. None of them are particularly interesting, surprising, shocking or intriguing. Instead of building tension and drawing a connection as promised in the synopsis, this style is jarring and convoluted. Just when I was getting used to a voice, it would whip back to another and frankly, was so over-written that it was stressful to follow.  I simply got bored.  I tried, I really tried, but I couldn't become engaged with the story. Also, the comparison to Charles Dickens is in my opinion, absurd.  The only commonality is London, besides that, I have a difficult time agreeing with the PR for this novel. I think many readers will find it misleading and disappointing. If you're looking for a good old murderous mystery novel set in Victorian London, this is not it. If you want cultural insight into India and a lesson in phrenological science, perhaps you will enjoy The Thing About Thugs.
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*ARC provided by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt courtesy of Amazon Vine

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