So after The Memory Police, I had another unusual reading. Jhumpa Lahiri’s Whereabouts. This novel, more of a novella, is not what we usually read in fiction.
Firstly, there is no story. It is just scattered musings of an unnamed protagonist in an unnamed city which reads like poetry in the disguise of prose. The almost plotless book is divided into small chapters woven by a common thread, life of the narrator in a year.
Secondly, it celebrates solitude like never before. Solitude, which is often confused with loneliness, is presented at its banal best. The main protagonist is a middle aged, single woman with relatively successful academic career who choses this solitary life. There is no sob story to back this choice. Neither there are unnecessary props to enforce that feeling. The author spends minimal words to express the situations through her minutely thought-through writings.. The banality feels so real, so personal that I almost connect with the broken plates, tea cups or the racks of the kitchen like my own.
Thirdly that draws the attention is the language. So fluid, so warm yet so rich. Her writing transcends the reader into a plethora of poetic words that tugs the right strings of heart.
True to its name it narrates the whereabouts of the narrator for a year in her life. We know about her ailing mother, deceased father, the nameless friends, colleagues, Lovers, the piazaa, her house all through small anecdotes in different situations during those whereabouts. The book is essentially a brief, continuous narrative about the essential homelessness of all humans.
And like all her writings the sense of place and the settings ( much like sweltering Calcutta, bookish Boston, a bored housewife’s Rhode Island) retain their distinctive character.
Another thing that is striking is the absence of name. None of the characters are named. And I repeat none, neither the narrator nor any character she encounters. There is absolutely nothing to identify individuals or places.And that does not hinder the flow in any ways. This part was revelation in itself.
Saying all this, the book may not appeal to all. Its delicate and serene narrative may be an obstacle to many readers. But, I, an ardent fan of Jhumpa Lahiri, will wait for another part, eager to know what happens in another place, how the life grows. And I know I will keep coming back to it in future.
To quote a few words:
“This evening as I read in bed I hear the roar of cars that speed down the road below my apartment. And the fact of their passing makes me aware of my own stillness. I can only fall asleep when I hear them. And then I wake up in the middle of the night, always at the same time, it’s the absolute silence that interrupts my sleep.”
“Without saying a word to each other we know that, if we chose to, we could venture into something reckless, also pointless.”
“Solitude: it’s become my trade. As it requires a certain discipline, it’s a condition I try to perfect. And yet it plagues me, it weighs on me in spite of my knowing it so well. It’s probably my mother’s influence.”