I was sorely tempted to review this in conjunction with Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, which if I had to put it in a genre, I would call historical fiction. Yet the two books could scarcely be more different. Ishiguro gives you an idea of a period, it’s hazy, impressionistic. Ghosh is very precise about historical themes. The book is sweeping – panoramic – but his focus is not on detail. If one might call World War one, for instance, a ‘detail’, it is noted in passing, perhaps in no more than a sentence, whilst the process of logging teak in Burma (as it was for most of the story) is told in depth over various settings and periods.
In principle I disapprove of historical fiction. Read a history book if you want history. Go the hard yards, fiction author. Don’t rely on historical filler to make up for your lack of story. But the fact is that I swallowed up all 500 pages of this in a couple of days and (obviously) was pleased to do so. I felt like I was there for every moment of the book. I was in the Glass Palace, I was in the jungle, I was on a rubber plantation in Singapore and various settings in India. Presumably that’s about as high praise as this sort of book can get.
It’s my first book by Ghosh, but I can see I’m going to have to try another.