Saturday, September 19, 2009

Bombay Ice by Leslie Forbes

India has always intrigued me. I would love to visit India. But the sad reality is that I would love to visit India in the mid-1860s. If only it was possible to see the world described by M. M. Kaye. Leslie Forbes' Bombay Ice was one of the first books I have ever read about current-day India. I have read books about Indians who leave India for Britain or the United States. But, unless my memory is favoring me, (which is entirely possible) I can't think of anything else that I have read which describes the current political and social situation in India - particularly in Bombay.

Which brings up a common question in my reading world. How accurate was this book? I would like for someone who lives in Bombay to read this book and tell me what they think. From the dust jacket it doesn't look as though Leslie Forbes has any personal experience with India so what led her to write this unusual novel? And more importantly, is her portrayal of Bombay true for everyone? true for a small minority? heavily exaggerated? The world she creates is depressing and dark. Do people really live like that on a daily basis in Bombay, India?

I will admit, the focus on Bollywood captured my attention. I have seen a few movies and remember a friend from college who had grown up on Bollywood so it is a world I would love to know more about. I liked how Forbes detailed the links between Hollywood and Bollywood, the focus on recreating Western classics, the continued interest in long-dead actors.

When all is said and done, I don't necessarily think I liked this book very well. It was a bit dark for my taste. I read more than my fair share of murder mystery, but I tend to lean toward the cozy side of things. Some of the imagery in this book was gag-worthy. The underworld that Forbes described thrives on gore in a way that I would rather not read about. But the excessive blood and guts was actually less bothersome than the distracting over-symbolism.

All books have some kind of symbolism, I suppose. Whether consciously written or created by literary criticists (or is it criticizers?) down the road I figure symbolism is just a part of literature. However picking two really detailed themes - meteorology and Shakespeare's The Tempest and returning to their connections to the novel ad nauseum got tiring. I finally hit a point that when monsoons, history of Chaos Theory or quotes about Prospero I began to skim. And I am not usually a skimmer. Had Forbes chosen one theme or another, I think I would have been okay. But choosing both together meant a lot of stream of consciousness style meandering while the main character considered her own belly button.

For die-hard mystery fans, a good mystery. For those interested in contemporary India, also worth a read. But for anyone just somewhat curious about the genre or the place this book will not hold your attention. I felt reading was slog-worthy which is relatively unusual for me.

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