Ruining the Daal

Thomas Jones

  • One Day by Ardashir Vakil
    Hamish Hamilton, 292 pp, £12.99, February 2003, ISBN 0 241 14132 X

Towards the end of this, Ardashir Vakil’s second novel, a successful Anglo-Indian novelist is quizzed by a group of friends in a North London kitchen about the way he writes, and about the subject of his next book. He discusses with a barrister the benefits of revision – he rewrites everything three or four times – and concision. When writing submissions, the lawyer says, ‘you have to condense a story into the space of a page, and tell it well, while making sure that all the points of law are included … The French call it zéro style’ [sic]. Jehan, the novelist, says he wants ‘to try and see if I can go in that direction in my next book’. He’s less willing to be drawn on the question of what the novel will be ‘about’. Eventually, his wife, a ‘beautiful psychotherapist’, announces to the room that ‘it’s about masturbation.’ It isn’t clear how literally she means this; she may be making a wry comment on her husband’s profession – the writing of novels could be seen as a self-indulgent and sterile occupation. Developing, if unconsciously, the metaphorical potential of the theme, another character, Jocelyn, says later that what she ‘can’t be doing with are novels about the trials and tribulations of middle-class North London couples. We’ve had enough of those to last us fifty years. Whingeing double-income liberal parents, please let us have no more of their banal utterances.’

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