The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, by Deborah Moggach

Review published on July 1, 2012.Reviewed by Amita Murray

Can life begin again when you’ve been outsourced at the age of seventy-five to a land you’ve never been to, and from which you are unlikely to return? Is this the end of your life, or a new beginning that you never dreamed possible? Is your journey singularly your own, or will you, in shaking up the fabric of your existence, give your family and friends a chance to start again, too?

When the book begins, Deborah Moggach’s pensioners are a worn out lot. There is not much left to life, and the past lurks around unlikely corners. Then, because of querulous children, itchy sons-in-law, and projects gone wrong, this group of mismatched seniors arrives at the Marigold Hotel in Bangalore, India – in a land of mosquitoes, monsoon and multinationals.

There’s Norman, looking for one last shag, determined to annoy everyone with whom he comes into contact. His son-in-law can’t stand him, and his daughter has just about had it with the strife in her life. There’s Evelyn who has no money, and whose children seem to her like they are from another planet. All she wants is to be touched again. Dorothy is in constant pain, Muriel is not sure where the England she knew has disappeared, and Madge is chasing her ghosts.

In Bangalore, they must wipe the slate of their expectations and start again. They must connect with foot-rubbing fortune-tellers, a bunch of young call-centre employees, and exotic colours and flavours, and in doing so, they must come to terms with their own frailty and the depth of longing at their core.

Moggach is a prolific writer of novels, two collections of short stories, and screenplays (including the BAFTA-nominated Pride and Prejudice, 2005). She used to work in publishing, teach riding, and waitress, and she trained as a teacher. In short, she was on just about any life path but writing. That is, till she moved to Pakistan for two years and a whole new life opened up for her. Much of her writing deals with relationships between real and flawed people, and clashes between people and their cultural environment. In The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Moggach certainly spews Western stereotypes about India and Indians, but frames them in a way that they actually reveal the act of stereotyping, the fear of the Other, and the common desires and anxieties that lie underneath it all.

This is not a scintillating book. It is not exactly like a glass of Prosecco. It is more like a comfortable cup of Darjeeling, a brew you can sip at your leisure instead of gulping down in one go. But it is a cuppa with quirky top notes and layered undertones.

 

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