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.