four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
32-Jan-Feb-2008
By: 
Paul Theroux
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Three Novellas

A-The Elephanta SuiteIn three very loosely connected novellas, Paul Theroux explores the experience of American visitors to modern India. "Monkey Hill" follows a wealthy, middle-aged couple who want to experience India but are reluctant to leave the safety of their resort. When they do, their assumptions about India lead to tragic consequences. In "The Gateway of India," a divorced Boston attorney confines himself to his exclusive hotel, until a chance encounter propels him into Mumbai's sexually depraved corners. The third novella, "The Elephant God," features Alice, a young graduate of Brown University, who is disappointed in her search for the romantic India she has read about in uplifting novels and seen in Merchant-Ivory films. All three stories address the visitors' experiences amid India's complexities.
Houghton Mifflin. 288 pages. $25. ISBN: 0618943323

Baltimore Sun 4.5 of 5 Stars
"It's classic, but dark. It's smart and intricate and complex and difficult to read because the characters are at once loathsome and poignantly vulnerable and empathetic. ... The Elephanta Suite hovers near extraordinary, a must for Theroux fans and anyone else captivated by India and yearning to see beyond the stereotypes or Bollywood fantasies." Victoria A. Brownworth

Time 4.5 of 5 Stars
"His characters begin in manicured, air-conditioned places, but it is the clammy grasp of desire, the smells and the slippery deals of the back alleyways, that really bring them out. The human bestiary has rarely found a more spirited observer." Pico Iyer

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Elegantly composed, his work is an often seemingly effortless cycle of themes, variations, repetitions. ... All this is performed with grace and economy and without the contrivances one might expect." Adam Langer

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"In this entertaining trio of novellas, Theroux is his curmudgeonly self. ... [T]three perfectly manageable and interesting little trips to India with some less-than-agreeable traveling companions, including Mr. Theroux." Tim Cuprisin

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"[F]ull of the lovely, lively writing we have come to expect of [Theroux], whether as a portraitist of journeys and places or as a writer of fiction. ... The tales are in the nature of fables, all highly moral though not remotely moralistic." Tunku Varadarajan

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"[T]he thought-provoking novellas of The Elephanta Suite are [mostly] beautifully paced, by turns moving, sexy and disturbing. You could finish one in an evening, which means that at least three evenings this fall would be very well spent." Michael Dirda

Entertainment Weekly 3.5 of 5 Stars
"In three astringent novellas, Paul Theroux pokes holes in fatuous Western illusions about India. ... While the novellas are fascinating, all three could have been cropped into even punchier short stories." Jennifer Reese

Miami Herald 3 of 5 Stars
"Despite [problems including] abrupt and unsatisfying endings, The Elephanta Suite presents a gritty, pungent world of artful challenges to cultural bias, putting reader and character alike through the uncomfortable wringer of travel and ensuring that both are equally altered by the experience." Christine Thomas

Critical Summary

With The Elephanta Suite, prolific travel writer and novelist Paul Theroux wins favorable comparisons to Graham Greene and Somerset Maugham. This suite of three novellas explores the gritty reality of American tourism in India: the book is not for those readers who seek another sunny portrait of an exotic land. As The Washington Post noted, "Theroux isn't likely to bring many new tourists to the subcontinent." As with much of Theroux's fiction, sexual and economic exploitation is the dominant theme, and the dark center of the human soul is his subject. Even those reviewers who judged the stories' endings unsatisfying praised The Elephanta Suite-a master travelogue told by a master storyteller.