New York, NY, United States | Member Since 2009
This book is so rich in metaphor, permitting multiple interpretations. Many reviews that I have read of it focus on the author's masterful use of language, but I think it is equally important to consider the themes that she tackles: errancy, abandonment, and madness.
Although the narrator never says so outright, this is a book not only about family losses, but about how people respond to such losses -- either by clinging rigidly to some sort of external structure (Lucille and the grandmother) or by fleeing the scene, whether through physical or psychic abandonment of home (Sylvie, Helen, Ruth).
As a mental health professional, it was fascinating to me to read about characters whose contours would fit within the bounds of psychiatric diagnosis, and yet whose lives are richer, more forgivable, than such categories would suggest. In Ruthie's eccentric grandfather, a sort of outside painter, dreamer, and railroad man, we catch glimpses of manic-depressive illness. In Sylvie, we see a woman teetering on the edge of psychosis, caught up in the detritus of the past while denying the present. Ruthie, who follows Sylvie much like her Biblical namesake followed Naomi, gets caught up in a kind of folie-a-deux, a shared dream of lifting anchor and drifting through the world together. In this family, errancy is a pre-emptive strike against abandonment; before they are deserted, the characters choose to desert the world. Whether or not this is a heroic measure or a thoughtless, selfish choice is up to the reader/listener to decide.
A note about the narrator: I think I would have been able to relish the book more deeply if the narrator had not spoken so quickly. The lines were delivered rapid-fire pace at times, which detracted from the author's careful construction of language and character.
The narrator of "The Indian Clerk" is a reserved, gay mathematician (G. Hardy, a historical figure) from a middle-class background who, despite belonging to one of the most elite intellectual societies of his day, always feel a bit out-of-place in pre-WWI Cambridge. With a fellow mathematician, he manages to bring an obscure Indian mathematical genius, Ramanujan, to study and work at Cambridge. The book is a nostalgic account of an imagine relationship between the two men, one English, one Indian, who are united by their love of mathematics and divided by their cultural differences. A superb depiction of the pre-WWI and WWI era (one of my favorites to read about), as well as a bittersweet tale of a man's love for another.
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