As I mentioned in my previous post about my 2013 challenge, I have chosen some monsters to read this year. It took me awhile to get started, but I have finally finished my first one: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. At 944 pages, this beast took me about a month to get through – seriously affecting my reading goal progress (I am more than three books behind where I should be!). But hey, I guess the other five monsters will do the same, so I should probably get used to it…
Part of my reason for choosing to read Shantaram was that it is a former Unputdownable Book Club pick (from before I joined ). So it seemed appropriate to write a review and gather input from the other girls to share as well.
When I finish a book and start contemplating my review I often look at the reviews posted on Goodreads. Not to steal ideas, but to see where my ideas fit in with everyone else’s. For Shantaram, people on Goodreads seemed to either love it (5 stars) or hate it (1 star) – I am one of the few in the middle. I didn’t hate the book, but it was not the life-changing read it seemed to be for many reviewers.
I went into this book with the understanding that it was semi-autobiographical. The major events were true, but the characters were created, often as an amalgamation of people the author met, and smaller details were added to move the story along. With that understanding, I found the story engaging and the characters believable. I think that because the story was semi-autobiographical the author was able to write it in a way that seemed real (because it partly was) and this allowed him to transport the reader into the events and relationships. There were some characters that were just fantastic and I became attached to them: Prabaker (I was devastated by his fate in the book), Qasim Ali, Khader, Didier, Lisa and Karla. I was invested in their “lives” throughout the book. The book also provides a great description of India – the good and the bad – and although I had little desire before, I now want to visit.
One additional bonus: although it has been on hold for awhile and rumoured to be cancelled, there is apparently still a possibility of a movie version… and Johnny Depp is pegged to be Lin. And I love Johnny…
Now, while the semi-autobiographical nature of the book allows it to feel real, I believe it is also the main reason behind the book’s biggest flaw: its length. Because Roberts was writing about his life and events that happened to him, he saw every detail as important. This is not necessarily the case for the reader and this led to a 944-page beast. This book needed to be about 300 to 400 pages shorter, or be broken into more than one novel. After 944 pages I also expected an ending that wowed me, or at least one that concluded everything for me. The ending I got was open and vague, leaving me with additional questions aout Lin’s life and left me dissapointed and frustrated. It is almost as if it just ended mid-way through the story. I feel like this stage of Lin’s life should have been wrapped up in this book – but that is not what happens. Sometimes open endings work… after 944 pages, this is not one of those times!
Two other sticking points for me were:
- I found Lin a little egotistical and irritating – he alternates between thinking he is evil to thinking he is a hero and his emotions swing like he is bi-polar. Everything is about his struggle to find some redeeming factors in himself. Now, I understand the point of the story is his life and struggle, but having some additional perspective would have added to the depth of the novel.
- The little “tidbits of wisdom” and philosophical discussions throughout the novel get tiresome and I found myself skimming some of those parts. There is no way one person can have that many dramatic epiphanies about life, love, and suffering in such a short period of time.
Overall I found the story entertaining and was interested throughout the novel. However, Shantaram was not unputdownable and it was about 400 pages too long and full of excessive detail. I don’t think I would re-read it, but I am glad that I read it. My final rating is 3 out of 5.
What did the UBC girls think of it?
Shantaram created a lot of great discussions in the book club meeting where it was discussed, many of which covered the same points that I mention above (great minds think alike!). Apparently some of the girls went into it believing that the entire story was true. This led to disappointment and a feeling of being deceived when they discovered it was not all true. They all found the author to be long-winded and would have preferred if the book was a third of the length – many did not even finish it. Although there were two girls who absolutely LOVED it, the overall consensus at the meeting was it was too long not to be a page turner… and it wasn’t a page turner. The average rating was a 3 to 3.5.
Book Club Discussion Questions:
- What do you think of Lin? Is he inherently good or bad?
- Did you enjoy the philosophical musings throughout the book? Were there any you strongly agreed with or strongly disagreed with?
- Who were your favourite characters? Least favourite characters?
- What do you think about the idea of doing the wrong things for the right reasons (a common theme in the novel)? Is it still wrong to kill someone or steal something to save your life?
- What did you think of Karla? Lin and Karla’s relationship? Were you satisfied with how this relationship ended in the novel?