No. of pages: 281 pages
Date published: February 16, 2012 (first published January 1, 2004)
Setting: Britain, Bangalore (India)
Original Title: These Foolish Things
When I first saw The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach at the Big Bad Wolf Book Sale, I thought, “Wow, this must be the most eccentric book title I’ve ever seen!” Still, it was enough to pique my interest to drop it into my overflowing basket of books. I paid for it along with all the other books and happily skipped home to start reading them. I chose this book out of all the other books that I bought at the end of last year and I haven’t looked back since. It has also been turned into a major motion picture of the same name in 2011 by director John Madden, with some of the biggest names in its cast, such as Dev Patel, Maggie Smith, Dame Judi Dench and Bill Nighy. The synopsis of the film and book are similar: a group of senior British citizens make their way to India to take up residence in what they believe to be a newly-restored hotel. Unbeknownst to them, the place was much less luxurious than advertised and the disappointment was quite obvious when they arrived at the hotel. Despite the obstacles, the Marigold Hotel began to slowly charm each and every resident in unexpected ways.
Synopsis from Goodreads:
When Ravi Kapoor, an over-worked London doctor, is driven beyond endurance by his obnoxious father-in-law, he asks his wife: ‘Can’t we just send him away somewhere? Somewhere far, far away.’ His prayer seems to have been answered when his entrepreneurial cousin, Sonny, sets up a retirement home, recreating a lost corner of England in a converted guesthouse in Bangalore. Travel and set-up are inexpensive, staff willing and plentiful – and the British pensioners can enjoy the hot weather and take mango juice with their gin.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a brilliant comedy of manners, mixing acute observation with a deeper message about how different cultures cope in the modern world.
The book introduces us to Dr. Ravi Kapoor, a man of Indian heritage but considers himself English, who is married to Pauline, an English woman. The house they live in is shared with her widowed father, Norman, who keeps getting the boot from other nursing homes as a result of his foul mouth and lecherous behaviour. Due to Ravi’s desperation to get rid of his unbearable father-in-law, he teams up with his cousin, Sonny (played by Dev Patel) and eventually the two decide to open a retirement home in Bangalore which they plan to run specifically for the elderly English people. Ravi uses Norman’s obsession with sex to entice him to make the move to India with the rest of the other elderly folk moving along for their own reasons. Racist bigot Muriel Donnelly moves as well, although her reasons for moving are not made clear until well into the novel.
They are quite a combination of characters, so to speak, from the newly-widowed Evelyn Greenslade (played by Judi Dench), wheelchair-bound Muriel Donnelly (played by Maggie Smith), single High Court judge Graham Dashwood (played by Tom Wilkinson), Douglas and Jean Ainslie (played by Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton, respectively) who are a couple disillusioned with one another, vivacious gold-digger Madge Hardcastle (played by Celia Imrie) and lonely Lothario with a foul and lecherous mouth, Norman Cousins (played by Ronald Pickup).
It is a seemingly predictable plot from the start, in a sense that not all of them will survive, that new relationships will begin while the old ones will fracture and wither away. There will surely be secrets, lies and discoveries where everyone will eventually learn about as long as they are living there. This is actually a lot for one book to handle, with many of the scenes overlapping each other.
What I like about the book is its exploration into the difficulties faced by the elderly folk in a modern society. For the most part, however, the issues that they deal with on a daily basis are fairly undemanding. Most of the characters are afraid in a way and their worries are very well portrayed by the author. What I didn’t like, though, was Norman’s never-ending obsession with sex and his impotence, which all began to get a little tiresome and repetitive. This might come off sounding a little wrong and evil to you, but I was kind of relieved when the author killed him off.
But it still was an interesting story and quite an entertaining one too. Though, I often did wonder how were the British pensioners ever going to find solace and comfort in a shabby and desolate hotel that has been turned into a retirement home for old folks (for the reason of profiteering I’m sure in Sonny’s eyes if things had gone his way). Also, the culture and communities in India must have been an eye-opener to some of the folks who has never seen beggars at every corner of an area!