Doing justice to the mess

Jonathan Coe

  • Afternoon Raag by Amit Chaudhuri
    Heinemann, 133 pp, £3.99, June 1993, ISBN 0 434 12349 8

The triumphs of this novel are at once tiny and enormous. Tiny because, like its predecessor A Strange and Sublime Address, it tells only of a placid and uneventful life, a life of domesticity, routine and small daily rituals, in which a ride on a bus or a rendezvous in a café is the closest we are likely to come to adventure; enormous because Chaudhuri has once again turned this unspectacular material into something enchanting, studded with moments of beauty more arresting than anything to be found in a hundred busier and more excitable narratives. Part of the reader’s exhilaration, for that matter, derives from our awareness that the substance of the book is so perilously thin: as we watch Chaudhuri weave such intricate patterns from it, the pleasure we take in his daredevilry is analogous to the excitement of hearing a virtuoso raag singer performing an act of controlled improvisation.

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