Can we talk about The Lowland?

Or perhaps enough is enough…

Lahiri’s newest novel has been on every top 10, books you should know, what to read this winter, etc. – list, and yet, weeks later, I’m still scratching my head. In the time since I started The Lowland, I’ve read three other novels, took a trip to Mexico and commuted to and from work about 100 times, fighting my conscience with every excuse not to read on.

The introductory summary in this New York Times Books post tells everything you need to know. The mysterious secret Gauri keeps? Don’t hold your breath. It’s not very compelling in light of the incest, abandonment and first generation struggles; subjects that could have been gripping were they discussed rather than practically noted to move along the plot. Finally, towards the end, there is some art to her emotional descriptions, but it’s long overdue by then.

My parents were born and raised Rhode Islanders, so the unexpected tribute to “The Ocean State” was appreciated. Lahiri does a beautiful job describing the essence of the earthy, coastal landscape and its special nooks and crannies (it is her homestate). I also commend her for choosing the road less traveled and allowing her characters to suffer for a very long time. Some of the pain in reading the novel is enduring the deep internal struggle that Subhash and Gauri deal with, separately, in double the force. Again, I consider this a strength of the book, and it added a weight the narrative and the context faulted. Tossing in death and heartache against a backdrop of politics is not a sure-fire recipe for an interesting story (although writing it out makes it sound awfully enticing).

Meg, short for Meghna, is a nickname given to one of Lahiri’s characters. Of course, this also excited me, and it was nice to see my name applied in a less American context. (Starbucks baristas of the universe, take note: it is not Maggie, Eva, Michelle, Mahgan, etc.).

I did finally finish the book. Its last words imply some takeaway, but they didn’t strike any chords here. I was left with an unnecessarily heavy heart.


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