The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach - is not the romanticized comedy depicted by the movie of the same name. The novel is far more confronting. In fact, it is a rant from beginning to end on ageism, racism, patriotism, chauvinism and sexism.
Moggach, who has written 15 novels, said she wrote the book to depict the plight of the elderly in western communities - but I think it is much more than that! You will be tested, so be warned!
The author puts ideas and words in to the mouths of her characters with such force, that it is both amusing and shocking. Her characters "opinions" could easily be deemed politically incorrect, but somehow she manages to get away with it. Or does she? That is up to you.
For instance, Moggach uses her characters on both sides of the continent (Britain and India) to express outspoken and confronting criticisms of one another and their respective value systems without excuse or apology.
Two such characters are the Indian doctor Ravi and his English wife Pauline who take a swipe at the changing face of British health care:
"...it is immaterial what country you happen to be in, when your time comes...in all likelihood the last face you see on this earth, would be a black one." p71
The novel informs us that today's British elderly, due to their frailness and reduced resources, are feeling threatened or are indeed physically threatened by the changing society in which they live. Once again Pauline sympathetically informs the reader:
"Old people like the familiar. What's familiar about the world they live in now? Britain is a foreign country to most of them these days...And full of darkies." p20
These outspoken comments and confronting observations continue throughout the book, via conversations within the group of elderly misfits who travel to India to live in a "home". Correction. They prefer "hotel".
All the aged are between 60 - 70 years and all have their own story to tell. The negative side of being elderly is blatantly exploited by the author as the mouthpiece to make her point, at the expense of all the good qualities that one who reaches wise, old age should possess.
The elderly residents are characterized in varying degrees of inflexibility, ignorance, naivety, perversion; they are insulting, overly conservative or suspicious of the world and each other. This allows the comments they make to be "acceptable" by the reader as this is true to character.
Having said that, is it age that makes us so? Or have they been like this their whole lives and age has simply weathered and exposed their thin veneers?
From fiesty racist, Muriel (played by Maggie Smith) to self-effacing conservative (played by Judy Dench) all the characters have their own contributions to make to this messy world we live in.
A group of aged Brits, brought together by circumstance, find themselves as the new residents of a dubious business venture run by polite, charming yet manipulative, opportunistic Indians. The hotel is, unknown to them, run by charlatans and imposters. The one thing they all share is their quest for survival.
Despite this shared quest, the death of Norman was caused by the spiteful revenge of the hotel's proprietor. It's frightening to think that his involvement will go unchallenged and unpunished from a lawful point of view. Morally however, should we be content that Norman caused his own downfall, the other hotel guests, eager to keep up appearances, unwittingly helped cover it up and that Sonny will redeem himself (according to Indian teachings) in the next life?
Sonny does try to make clumsy and dangerous amends with Norman's daughter, Pauline. When she returns home to England to scatter her father's ashes on his favourite walking trail, she opens the urn to find it full of cocaine.
While reading this book I, as the reader, sensed a disturbing disquiet that " retirement homes" (like everything else) may be outsourced in the future.
The proprietor Sonny congratulates the group with a speech;
"Our modest venture will be the start of a whole new export market - no longer cotton - but people. To which one guest asks, "What? by the kilo?" p229
Sonny continues with his speech, reminding the guests of India's reverence for the elderly. Another guest - Theresa (a reformed devotee of Indian spiritualism) does not mince words when she whispers under her breath:
"...yes, and you press baby girls faces in to sacks until they suffocate, burn brides for their dowries and force children in to labour." p259.
The jousting continues.
Even quiet, conservative Evelyn, when trying to explain what aging feels like, points to a group of Muslim women waiting to catch a bus. They are all enveloped from head to foot in burkhas.
"Being old is like wearing one of those." p269
A truce of sorts takes place when the book ends with the marriage of two elderly residents. It seems that everyone has adjusted to a shared co-existence. No doubt the barbs will continue since that is the human condition.
So too, is the shared need to belong and feel renewed.
"With their blushing cheeks and pink lips, the couple looked quite young again."
Many conversations take place around the dining table and since Chicken Biryani was a favourite of the guests I have chosen this dish as a symbol of communication, honest endeavour and civility. No recipes are included in the novel.
This is a Pakistan Indian dish. Chicken pieces are cooked in a spicy tomato and yogurt sauce, accompanied by spiced fried rice, crispy pan fried potatoes and raita (cucumber, mint, yogurt dip).
2 large onions (chopped)
2 cloves garlic crushed
3 teaspoons grated ginger
1/2 tspn chilli powder
1/2 tspn tumeric
1 tspn ground cummin
1 can crushed tomatoes (cheats way)
1/2 cup greek yogurt
2 tspn dried mint 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
2 chicken breasts diced
Fry onion garlic ginger until soft and fragrant in a little peanut oil or ghee. Add dry spices and stir
in hot pan to release flavours. Add can of tomatoes and yogurt. Allow to simmer in to a sauce. Add chicken pieces and cook slowly at a simmer for about 40 minutes. The sauce will become reduced.
500gm precooked rice
1 large onion diced
1/2 tspn tumeric
1/2 tspn cardomom
3 whole cloves
1/2 tspn ground ginger
Fry onions until golden
Add rice and stir through.
Fry diced potatoes in oil and make raita
Ingredients and method
Combine 1 large lebanese cucumber diced
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup finely chopped mint
©2011 My Novel Idea by Ann Etcell-Ly/All Rights Reserved