Unnerving reality: The Lowland
Review: a ponderous, profound novel
Nothing occurs without reverberation in Jhumpa Lahiri’s intensely observed studies of displaced Bengalis attempting to assimilate into contemporary US society. Her muted, slow-burning Man Booker-shortlisted second novel – which deserved to win the recent Baileys Prize – sees two brothers growing up in post-independence Calcutta.
When Subhash begins applying to PhD programmes in the US, Udayan accuses him of selfishness. Yet he suddenly leaves, only to mysteriously return. Subhash goes to the United States. Back in India, Udayan, now politically involved, secretly weds the sister of a college friend and resides with his parents and unhappy young wife. Subhash settles in Rhode Island, alone and barely aware of the Vietnam War, until summoned home by tragedy.
The prose is flat, formal and often toneless. By the close of this ponderous, profound novel it becomes obvious exactly how good it is. The characters are unnervingly real while Lahiri’s daunting emotional intelligence counters the stylistic blandness.