The Hungry Tide

On a sunny afternoon a few weekends ago, I discovered the pleasure of second hand bookstores. Normally I like my books to be nice and new, but apart from an entire wall filled with musty Penguin Classics, this stall (it was at the markets) also had a shelf of shiny paperbacks, some with their original price tags still on them. At half price. How my heart fluttered when I saw Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide sitting there, in all its beautiful blueness.

Though I had not, in any way, anticipated myself reading this book (and though I hardly needed another book to add to my list of books for August) I knew that I would fall in love with this book. And I did. I had never even heard of the Sundarbans before, and that hidden away world of marshes and intertwining rivers, tigers and crocodiles, monsoons and river dolphins enchanted me. The characters were thought out well enough, though they were perhaps a little too cookie-cutter: the arrogant middle-aged bachelor who thinks he can snag and shag all the ladies, the fiery strong-willed young woman with a rare – and every interesting, and extremely specialised – occupation (how many people in the world track dolphin movements for a living?). And, well, Fokir. I quite liked Fokir, and the big guy too, though I forget his name – Horen? Horesh?

Ghosh has an easy-breezy laid back style of writing which I quite liked. The writing wasn’t what I would call beautiful (like Ondaatje’s, for instance), but there was quite a strong sense of place/atmosphere.This is the type of book I absolutely devour in the summertime. Not too heavy, with interesting characters and a steady, evenly-paced plot. Yet it was far from seamless. Though it wasn’t that distracting, I noticed raw edges and threads and loosely sewn plots everywhere. What I mean is that there were many times when the plot was propelled on in an extremely contrived and artificial way. For instance, at one stage in the novel, Ghosh wants to introduce a background character, but the way he provides the history of this character annoyed me. It was along the lines of –

“What? Who is so-and-so?”

“Oh, she was so-and-so’s mother, didn’t you know? They came from such-and-such a place, however many years ago.”

“Oh, I have never heard of this place. Is it interesting, I wonder?”

“Well, let me tell you about it then, and about her too, while I’m at it. It happened like this …”

And quite early on in the novel, the protagonist is stranded on a fishing boat with a man who only speaks Bengali. She is at a loss – then, “quite suddenly the word arose in her mind: ‘Lusibari’“. I know that happens often in real life – all of a sudden! We recall something important. But it seemed so contrived. Also, at times it felt like Ghosh had done lots of solid research, and he felt like it was a waste to leave it out, so:

“Look! That’s a so-and-so type of dolphin!”

“Why is it acting in that peculiar manner?”

The dolphins acted that way because of this and that, Piya explained (… followed by 500 pages of dolphin research)

Yes, Ghosh often switches to third person in the middle of his dialogues. Another thing which I found jarring. Apart from those things (and those are quite minor things, considering how picky I normally am with my books), I found The Hungry Tide a lovely experience. Alas, while books at half price are charming, it’s back to the bookstores and The Book Depository for me. Because while I was reading, I discovered several dark red-brown stains which, disconcertingly enough, resembled specks of dried blood. Or something less sinister, but equally gross on the page of a book.


12 thoughts on “The Hungry Tide

  1. I read mostly second-hand books — from bookmooch and Amazon Marketplace, and I’m starting to get a craving to OWN a NEW Book to read. Sigh.

    I’m glad you had time for a light, fun breeze-through-in-one-summer-afternoon book! It’s too bad it didn’t leave you completely satisfied.

    I like the new look. I wasn’t sure I was on the right page at first, but it’s nice!

    1. Well, I can’t deny that secondhand books are better for my wallet, but it’s so hard to find ones that are in pristine condition! Even with this book, when I skimmed through it, it looked pretty mcuh new (apart from slight yellowing etc) but then I discovered those weird stains…!

      Mm, I did enjoy how light and breezy it was! Summer has crept up on us very suddenly, and I’m in need of more summery books :)

      As for the new look, I did sort of achieve what I was looking for (minimalist, but cluttered), only I’m still frustrated by wordpress because I can’t modify themes like on Blogger. Grr!

  2. Eek. I found similar blood-like stains in the pages of my seemingly pristine copy of The Blind Assassin from the library sale! What I did: donated the book and bought a new copy from The Book Depository because I loved it so much I wanted to keep my own. Are you keeping this copy though??

    I really liked The Hungry Tide, too, but not totally loved it. Although Ghosh’s The Sea of Poppies I super duper loved and am so looking forward to the next two installments of the trilogy.

    1. Oh no! Maybe there are some passionate readers who read so passionately that their noses bleed as they stay up all night to read!

      I think I’ll just keep my copy, because it became a part of my day that day, if you get what I mean. If I bought a new copy now, it wouldn’t be the same. And also it was an unexpected buy; somehow the stains matter less when I consider it that way, hahah!

      That’s probably how I would describe it too – it’s a ‘like’ but not ‘love’ book. Been wanting to read Sea of Poppies, but I don’t like the cover so I’ve been refusing to buy it. I’m such a twit :)

      1. We’re so on the same page about covers. I won’t buy even if I wanted to read the book ha ha. But you don’t like the Sea of Poppies cover?? It’s beautiful!

  3. Your description of introducing the secondary character made me chuckle. It’s always a little disconcerting to come across such a naked device, isn’t it? This book doesn’t sound like a must-read, but, via Claire & others, I am getting more and more curious about The Sea of Poppies.

    1. Hi, Emily :)

      Yes, it is disconcerting! And the book was full of them! Definitely not must-read, but it was a delightful and unexpected surprise, because I’d never read Ghosh before and I found I quite liked his writing (despite all the imperfections).

      Ditto – esp. because it was shortlisted for last year’s Booker. I always try not to get myself worked up over those nominations, but they do make me so curious.

  4. Almost all the books I buy are used books – I don’t really mind if books look read when I buy them, because that’s what books are for, and part of me does like knowing a book was well-loved before I got to it… but ambiguous stains cross the line! I also hate buying books that have been highlighted in (light writing in pencil is fine, though I don’t really write in my books), that happened when I bought a gorgeous hardback copy of 100 Years of Solitude… So now whenever I go to the used bookstore, I always flip through everything I’m thinking of buying to make sure it’s not creepy or despoiled in anyway!

    This one sounds pretty interesting, I must say! I haven’t read anything by Ghosh, though I have heard about Sea of Poppies (I remember Claire gushing about it), so I do want to try something by him in the future! I could definitely see myself getting swept away by the exotic setting in this book.

    1. It’s a pretty good book, though I wouldn’t go out of my way to find it, if I were you. A relaxing holiday/summer read, at most. Saving grace = the folktales, and minor plotlines. And probably the very best part is the cover.

      ps. arrgghhh yes highlighted books make me angry. The ones from my university library are particularly bad, because so many students have run through them with all sorts of writing instruments – from ballpoint pens to pencils to highlighters to crayons. It’s crazy.
      But I wonder why people highlight sentences in novels. It seems an odd thing to do, unless you happen to be a lit student

      1. oh yes, my copy of Beloved that I just read (and also read in college and wrote papers on) has TONS of pencil highlighting of sentences. Catching the themes, etc. I think I did that a lot in college.

          1. I always envy lit students – I would be so happy if I got to read novels instead of stuffy outdated politics!

            Hahah, in high school I always used to write out quotes I wanted because I so hated leaving marks on my books! Occasionally, I’d underline in pencil, but it always shocked me when other students went through their books with fluoro pink and yellow highlighters :O

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