Monday, November 17, 2008

No nook unshot

Amitav Ghosh’s new novel, Sea of Poppies, is a wonderful
read. Since being lucky enough to have the opportunity of
interviewing Ghosh (rhymes with “bush," by the way) a
few years ago, I have pounced eagerly on any books of his.
Like Mister Pip, this one was on the final shortlist of six
for this year’s Booker Prize, so The Gathering, which beat
them both, must be a remarkably fine piece of work. Sea
of Poppies
weaves together the stories of several people in
19th-century India in such a dashing Dickensian way as to
leave you hungry for more—which, I’m glad to say, will
come, as it's the first of a planned trilogy. It also plays as a
savage though never heavy-handed satire on the British
Raj, embellished by the colourful use of Anglo-Hindi, an
almost forgotten patois that Ghosh has swotted up. You
have to work it out for yourself as you go along but the
context usually provides clues enough: a rootie in the
chola, for instance, can only be a bun in the oven. There
is also delight in coming across that totally forgotten
word “nook-shotten,” celebrated by Cyril Connolly 70
years ago in The Unquiet Grave and, before that,
probably used only by Shakespeare (in Henry V).
Applied to a coastline, it means much indented with
inlets and bays. Astute readers of this blog will
undoubtedly find a way of dropping it into conversation
before long, especially if planning a trip to Fiordland.

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