The Cheltenham Literature Festival – 5th to 14th October 2018
Novel set in Mysore and London (“the writing in this book is extremely engaging”)
1st July 2015
Being Someone by Adrian Harvey, novel set in Mysore and London.
I came across this book because there was a spike of considerable hype on social media, highlighting the author’s use of location and quality of his writing. There were also some impressive reviews around, so it sounded like a top pick.
There are essentially two strands to this book. The first concerns the relationship between a mahout and his elephant in India and the process of training this particular elephant, who then rises to be a star in the annual parade of Dasara. It is delicately drawn, and the environment in which these two co-exist is beautifully captured, it is heartrendingly described.
Then there is a swift switch to London, and to James in the second story, who falls for Lainey, an American working in the capital for a law outfit. They fall in love and build their relationship, they move house, they have parties and then….It is a nuanced observation of a couple relationship through James’s eyes, himself a flawed young man who has lost the support of his family, and ultimately struggles to connect with intimacy. Lainey is seen by everyone to be an attractive young woman, who has everything going for her, but that is as much as we get. She is a cut-out of gorgeousness, but nothing really for the reader to hold on to. And perhaps that is the rub, there are two people in this relationship and one of them clearly is discontented and increasingly disconnected; the other is merely a shadow. James, feeling boxed in, in all aspects of his life, does come across as rather spineless, and ultimately he isn’t a terribly likeable character.
This book is very much about the connection between two sets of beings, and how something that can start out as a symbiotic relationship, sustaining both parties during a given period in life, can can soon spiral into a destructive force.
The writing in this book is extremely engaging. It is thoughtful, clear, and the words and ideas flow smoothly. But what isn’t smooth is the elision between the story building up in Mysore and the relationship that is unravelling in London. There is a tenuous link – James takes Lainey to India and later travels there on his own and asks after the story of the elephant and the mahout. Each story is in itself gripping and I so wanted each one to develop and grow further – and each would have been sufficiently engrossing to stand alone with further development. Together the two stories encroach on each other and do disturb the flow.
As for location, both India and London feel so real. James introduces Lainey to India and he describes with beauty and feeling the temples at Badami, which I now feel inspired to visit: Women in saris washed clothes on the steps that led down into the water, filling the world with an explosion of colour; a hundred different oranges, blues, and yellows, set against the overwhelming green of the lake and red of the cliffs. Standing in the timeless tranquility of the temples, surrounded by the exuberant riot of the present, Lainey turned to me and said quietly, definitively, that OK, she got it. She got what it was that draws so many people to visit the country….
The book is published by Urbane Publications (“ordinary words made extraordinary”).
I really enjoyed reading the book and very much look forward to the author’s next work!
Tina for the TripFiction Team