Why is it so much easier to collate thoughts and feelings about a disappointing book?
Initially published as These foolish things but probably best known under its new cover, The best exotic Marigold hotel promises a read that is ‘warm, wise, funny’ (The Guardian) and ‘A glorious romp’ (The Sunday Express). Seeking a book that would leave me feeling the way My family and other animals did in March, predicting a weekend spent reading in the sun, and having loved the film for its warmth and humour, I was very excited to travel to India. However, much like discovering that your hotel was not as advertised, promises were undelivered.
The characters were supposed to provide a cross-section of elderly experiences in the U.K and certainly, all display recognisable traits: Muriel the stubborn, racist Peckham resident who refuses to neither move nor accept that things are changing, Norman a belligerent widower who’s ‘fear of women’ sees him expelled from care-home after care-home due to inappropriate sexual behaviour. Dorothy, the once brilliant, now forgotten, BBC producer and the Ainslies, who seem too happy for it to be real, join Evelyn who just doesn’t want to be a burden to her two children.
The first few pages of the book were really promising, and I enjoyed the introductions to the majority of the emigrating pensioners. However, it quickly moved downhill. Far from being the happy novel that the blurb promised, it quickly became a negative bemoan of marriage and relationships. Apart from the last few lines wherein a new marital union
was formed, all of the relationships were teetering on the edge of collapse; or had already collapsed creating bitter individuals and, quite frankly, a lot of boring conversations.
Whilst it was interesting – to a small extent – to see the relationships between the occupants of Marigold Hotel and their sons, daughters, grandchildren, none of these characters were interesting enough to add the depth I so desperately hoped I’d find if I persevered; and they all seemed obsessed with sex. A married woman fantasises excessively about the brown, exotic men she sees at temples. A son leaves his wife and children for insta-love. Again, the woman in question is ‘brown’ and ‘exotic’. The most prominent example is supplied through the adventures of Evelyn’s 49-year old daughter. She travels to India to not only visit her mother but in a somewhat desperate attempt to find herself and spiritual enlightenment. Whilst this may be a somewhat lost attempt, she did discover a two-week affair with a dodgy Englishman. Both admitting that this was to be a purely physical relationship, Evelyn finds herself disproportionally affirmed by the experience. She also realises that she needs to stop trying to form relationships. This could have been an interesting commentary about how there are different ways of being happy, you don’t have to be in a relationship. However, this fell flat and instead just felt as though she gave up; seemingly just making the decision that relationships are too difficult and she’s not prepared to put in the effort.
Apart from occasional, and brief, bursts of happiness and positivity which did bring a smile, this prevailing, and boring, sense of negativity made this short book a frustrating read. I came very close to sending it back to library unfinished; stubbornness and a naive hope that it would eventually give me what I wanted are the only reasons I continued.
The film is wonderful and uplifting – I recommend it highly.
Have you read this book, what did you think? Let me know in the comments below.