Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Dead Hand

A dead hand is an expression for writer's block, but in Paul Theroux's new novel of the same name it becomes a real object handed to him by a former hotel maid - the hand of a young boy.  Theroux's novel is set in India, primarily Calcutta, and like much of his work can be somewhat ponderous and self-absorbed, but rich in ambiance and detail.  The plot involves a writer, Jerry Delfont, who is in Calcutta to give lectures, and is contacted by a mysterious and beautiful humanitarian, Merrill Unger, who wants him to do her a favor.  As a mistress in the Tantric Arts she sucks him into her world, which is not what the somewhat naive Jerry Delfont expects.  Playing off Hindu mythology (Unger is the perfect Kali), Theroux takes us into the duality that is India -- Spiritual, harmonic, enlightened and equally impoverished, brutal and materialistic.  No one can deconstruct a utopia like Theroux.  One of the funnier moments in the book is when Paul Theroux himself shows up and has a brief encounter with the narrator Delfont, whom he considers a hack.  A decent read, but I still rely on John Burdett for my Southeast Asian mysteries.