Friday, March 07, 2008

The New Yorker: "Raj, Bohemian" by Hari Kunzru

Having just read Kunzru’s new novel, My Revolutions, I was looking forward to this story. Not that I loved the novel (a story for another post), but I did want to see more of his work. And I liked this story well enough. It disappointed me in the end, and the beginning was weak, but the middle was solid and compelling. The narrator is part of a privileged, international crowd. The story doesn’t say where, I think, but it seems to be in London. His friends are hip and fashionable and unemployed and they go clubbing and have odd parties. Kunzru sets this environment up brilliantly (and the contrast with the recent novel couldn’t be greater). The narrator begins a fling with Thanh that neither takes seriously. And then the narrator discovers that Raj, whom he knows through his friend Sunita, has used their crowd as a “placement” for a new brand of vodka (by talking it up at a party and then snapping pictures of this hip crowd drinking the stuff). No one else seems to care, but the narrator is incensed. He then notices that everyone is pushing something. The reader has the sense that he is just paranoid and maybe losing his mind. But is he? To this point and well into the climactic scene with his new friend Zoe, the story is fun. But armed with new information he tracks down Raj to confront him, and the final scene is where I lose interest and the narrator as a character dissolves into a joke with a weak punchline.

March 10, 2008: “Raj, Bohemian” by Hari Kunzru


Southamptoner said...

Hi Clifford,

I had a hard time getting through this, because the narrators preening self-regard and precious hipsterdom irritated me to no end.. Perversely, i hated the character so much I read on!

Not knowing much about the author, I see that this was probably intentional. Still..

One glaring bit of business: the narrator disparages sincerity as gauche, "for awkward teenagers and people on SSRIs." Then later he pops Ativan, Valium and Paxil- which is an SSRI. Again, I'm not sure if this is intentional..

Well at least the story got my attention- I usually find fiction in the NYer quite dull, sorry to say.

Clifford Garstang said...

Yes, very compelling in an annoying sort of way. Exactly! It's funny because this character is at the opposite end of the spectrum socially from the protagonist of Kunzru's new novel, and yet that guy is also annoyingly self-absorbed while he claims to be all about fighting social injustice. In this story, I think you hit Kunzru's point on the head: these days, even sincerity is phony.

Thanks for the comment!

Anonymous said...

The writing was good, but the characters were unappealing, which was intentional, I suppose. At the end, I guess I just didn't get it. The character that annoyed me the most was the woman who gave the parties--was she supposed to be some sort of wise person? Mainly I thought, I am so glad I don't know any of those people, especially her.

Anonymous said...

the story takes place in new york, not london

Clifford Garstang said...

Anonymous, maybe it's New York. What's your evidence? I just read it again and it still feels like London to me. At least the narrator reads like a Brit--he uses "goods lift" and "flat" in ways that no American would, and talks of a room above a pub, where we'd say a bar.