Jan 2016 TBRI don’t seem to have anything to go with this one at the moment, so a singleton review. I’m reading the books I received for my last birthday as my next birthday approaches, so even though I’ve read quite a lot since Christmas Day (when I finished a book I received for the previous Christmas!) I seem to be at the same point in the TBR. Having said that, I have managed to turn that pile on the back shelf vertical now, so something must be shifting …

Saadat Hasan Manto – “Bombay Stories” (trans. Matt Reeck & Aftab Ahmad)

(21 January 2015 – from Ali)

A lovely Vintage paperback edition of stories by the acclaimed master storyteller of the 1930s and 40s. I got the idea from the blurb that these were shocking and provocative – in fact, I think he’s well known for shocking tales of Partition, whereas these stories are set earlier, mainly pre-WWII. They are in fact a little provocative given the times when they were written and published, with their open attitude to, lack of moralising about and broad discussion of sex, extramarital affairs, drinking, the odd bit of drugs and a lot of prostitution. Of course this all seems more run of the mill now to anyone raised on later stories and themes. There’s only one story which goes a bit far into violence and shock, which perhaps gives a nod to the stories Manto wrote a little later, as it is set at the beginning of the times around Partition, in fact.

Anyway, often centring round a particular character who slips into the narrator’s life (and perhaps out of it again), these stories do show the seedy side of Bombay, with assignations, prostitution, affairs and decidedly dodgy parties going on all over the place, girls being sent round to film studios to “get a job”, etc. The author himself appears in several of the stories, flitting in and out of meeting places, parties and other people’s marriages. All sorts of characters are portrayed, with little moral judgement, or anyway not where you would necessarily expect it to be. The writing is elegant and lyrical, and the translation seems good, with little of the clunkiness that can get in the way of translated reads.

A fascinating read that draws you in to a slightly tacky and sordid world which you can imagine going on at the same time as the colonial rulers were drifting around thinking they had the last word on scandals and parties – very interesting and worth a read.

This book will suit … anyone who likes books set in India (as Ali and I both do).

Currently reading – I’m still working my way through Ken Livingstone (bless him) – little flashes of (again) scandal at the way he was treated by the press but an awful lot of the inner workings of Left politics and the GLC. Also just started the Virago “Crossriggs”, published in 1908, although really I should be doing my next Dorothy Richardson. And just gearing up to read some Woolf, of course …