peteg's blog - noise - books - 2015 10 06 Roberts Shantaram

Gregory David Roberts: Shantaram.

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Binge-read on the Kindle. Yeah. I remember buying the original hardcover in London in 2004, and eventually giving it to Iain. There are loads of critiques out there, though all you need to know is summarised by Tyler Cowen's observation that this "is one of the best bad books I have read." Well, yes, yet another junk memoir, but without much explication of the experience of being on heroin, beyond the banal observation that it eats your life. For Roberts the skag was pure escapism, much like this book was for me. It lacks Clune's ruefulness, that's for sure; I guess that's what happens when you have the guts to go full-criminal. It also owes a huge debt to The Godfather, and perhaps aimed to supplant it as the go-to airport novel.

The whole thing is terribly cinemantic, with many parts reading like instructions to location scouts, grips and best boys, which of course brings into question how much is fact and how much is fiction. The wikipedia page for the book is pretty harsh, but Roberts invites this by wanting it to go both ways, and having (as they say in the U.S.) a healthy ego. This is not good versus evil so much as the author's balls-to-the-wall fantasy self busting heads, at least when he's not being tortured. His philosophy is trite; the drive toward ultimate complexity is just another teleological misadventure and not something that we should necessarily bother with at all. (That we are the universe observing itself is ... well, it's a cliché, right?) His lack of interest in India's defining caste system is damning. It pales in comparison to The Moon of Hoa Binh, which really stretches minds.

Much that's in this book I felt I learnt elsewhere, which may be me selling Roberts short. For instance, I'm sure Salman Rushdie talks about Haji Ali Dargah and larger Bombay at length in Midnight's Children, and I cannot forget how Persians use sugar cubes when drinking tea. Entirely coincidentally, the sequel is out on October 13. I preordered the version overstuffed with self-aggrandizing marginalia that is likely to shit me to tears. The movie is apparently still in the works; Joel Edgerton to star?