Wednesday, December 24, 2014
What I'm Reading: A House for Mr. Biswas
So it goes with A House For Mr. Biswas. Mohun Biswas...am I supposed to like him? Feel sorry for him? Feel contempt? Are the problems in his life there because he has no ability to defend or stick up for himself? Or are they there because of his family of in-laws?
Mr. Biswas begins life as an ill-fortuned baby and it all goes downhill from there. You find it very hard to root for him, though. I'm reminded of those romantic comedy plots where there is only drama because the characters won't sit down and talk to each other, thus letting the misunderstandng boil over into comedy. ("Comedy.") I hate those plotlines and I can never stand to watch movies or read books based on those sorts of misunderstandings because they are just so easily avoided in real life. I have the same frustration with M. Biswas. His marriage and all the resulting problems could have been avoided if he had just said the damn words, "No, I don't want to marry your daughter."
He gets harder to like as the book goes on, as everything that is wrong in his life he traces back being forced to relate to his wife (whom he never seems to like, ever) and his in-laws (who afford him zero respect). Maybe Mr. Biswas is intended to be a buffoon, someone we don't like but someone we laugh at. If that is the case, he is still too well-meaning to really be a satisfying laughing-stock. His store closes because he extends too much credit to customers; he makes sure to visit his daughter to lives at the in-laws house in the next town over and to check that she's not getting beatings or awful food. It doesn't feel good to laugh at someone like that; Biswas is no Ignatious J. O'Reilly.
There is just something so repulsive about the book that reading it has become a chore (which it usually isn't for me). It started off well but it has become tedious. It's the only English-language book I have on my person for our upcoming Christmas trip to the farm, though, so I expect I'll power through whether I want to or not. At least being at the farm I'm likely to finish it faster than I would otherwise.