Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

I am about to finish Rohinton Mistry’s novel, Family Matters, for my March book group meeting next week. This is my first experience with Mistry and I’m still working out how I feel about the book and his particular writing style.  

My initial reaction was pretty negative and if I hadn’t been reading the book for a discussion next week I would have put it down after 80 pages and never looked back. But these are the moments when I have to admit what a picky reader I can be. For the most part, the story is engaging – a wide-ranging exhibit of the frustrations, minor joys and necessary compromises of modern family life in Bombay 

Family Matters deals specifically with three siblings – Roxana, Coomy and Jal and their shared burden in caring for their step-father/father Nariman who suffers from Parkinson’s. But it’s also about Nariman’s youth and his failed love affair with a woman of a lower caste, a woman he should have married but couldn’t. This doomed relationship ruined Nariman’s marriage with Coomy and Jal’s mother. And if that central story weren’t enough, there is a lot more going on in tangential stories about Roxana’s two children and her husband, about their neighbors and even Bombay politics. 

As you can see, it’s a huge, sweeping novel with great ambition. Unfortunately, I felt the novel just missed the mark somehow. There are lovely, moving scenes scattered throughout the entire book, particularly between Nariman and his grandchildren, but most of the time the narrative cuts too many corners to achieve anything really powerful. There was too much vigorous explaining in the exposition and a lot of awkward dialogue so I could never forget I was reading something and simply lose myself in the story.  

However, I have heard such good things about his first and second novels, Such a Long Journey and A Fine Balance and I’d like to give them both a try before I decide Mistry isn’t a writer for me. 

8 Responses to “Rohinton Mistry – Family Matters”

  1. Ann Darnton

    I read this when it first came out, which was while I was still caring for my mother. I have to say that I loved it and thought that it was so true to the situation Mistry was trying to describe. I haven’t read the earlier novels, but only because I simply haven’t had the time. I’ll be interested to read what the rest of the group thinks about it. I only know of one other person who’s read it and he was a massive fan as well, but maybe it was just him and me.

  2. chartroose

    I’m not a big Mistry fan, and it’s because of the way he writes. His dialogue is just awful! So, don’t feel bad about not belonging to the Mistry love club. There are probably quite a few of us Mistry non-fans in the world.

  3. verbivore

    Ann – I’m also very curious to have our discussion on book group night, especially because two of the members have read his first novel and his second (which is why we chose his third for the group). I’ll be sure to post some of their thoughts!

    Chartroose – I was having a laugh at the dialogue because another friend of mine who is a writer and very particular about dialogue is reading the book at the same time and I knew she would be grimacing her way through the entire book. But I’m still willing to give his other books a try before I jump ship on him altogether!

  4. Litlove

    How interesting – I think I have this book somewhere on my shelves. I hate to lump authors into a group, but I never seem to have much luck with Indian authors. But still, I ought to read more to prove that statement is as ridiculous as it sounds.

  5. Dorothy W.

    I listened to this one on audio, and I liked it, but i do wonder sometimes if I’m more likely to enjoy something I’m listening to. I’ve got A Fine Balance on my shelves, but I’ve been reluctant to read it; perhaps that’s because I sort of feel like I’ve got him figured out and I know what I’m going to get and I don’t feel much excitement about it.

  6. verbivore

    Litlove – It’s been hit or miss for me. I love Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things and Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Interpreter of Maladies, but I struggled through The Namesake (also Lahiri) and The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai. But I will give Mistry a second chance and I’m looking forward to hearing what the rest of my group thought.

    Dorothy – I definitely react differently to a book when I listen to it versus reading it. Isn’t that interesting. I wish I had read A Fine Balance first, because it sounds like it might have been a better way to “meet” him.

  7. Tony Webster

    I am sorry to read some many negative comments about Mistry. I find his work deeply moving and I regard “A Fine Balance” as one of the most life affirming books I have ever read from a modern author.
    I suspect he needs some patience and a recognition that his dialogue reflects a style of speech which may not be much heard outside the Indian sub continent.

  8. verbivore

    Hello Tony and thank you for leaving a comment. I am looking forward to reading A Fine Balance and have heard wonderful things about it. I did not fully engage with Family Matters and I probably should have been more clear about why. But I did want to specify that my comment about the dialogue wasn’t meant to reflect speech style but instead what I felt was a clumsy use of seeding the dialogue with exposition which make it clunky and slow. I’m curious to know whether you’ve read Family Matters and how you think it compares to A Fine Balance.

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