This big, sprawling novel, with a cast of thousands, re-connects us with GDR’s alter-ego, the Australian Lin a.k.a. Shantaram, and his exploits in the Bombay underworld.
Some of the characters from the first novel, blockbuster Shantaram, are re-assembled, plus squads of new ones. There are few quirky, attractive new characters , the Zodiac Georges. Two street people, who are undying friends, both named George and differentiated by their birth months, hence Gemini George as opposed to Scorpio George. The new characters also provide arch villains. There’s the deeply unpleasant Lightning Dilip, the sadistic police sergeant , who routinely beats up suspects, and extorts bribes on every occasion. Concannon, the homicidal Irishman, wants to beat Lin to a pulp. I could never quite understand why. There are many others, but as I said, there’s a cast of thousands.
Testosterone and violence permeate the first third of the book; thereafter we have holy men, spiritual teachers and quests for love and faith, mingled with bouts of violence. It’s an uneven mix.
The story revolves mainly around the convoluted, not to say torturous, romantic relationship between Lin and his soul-mate, Karla and one of the novel’s major weaknesses are the pages and pages of waffly dialogue between them when they have verbal sparring matches. Boring. As are the tedious passages about earnest philosophical issues, with spiritual overtones. GDR needs to make up his mind whether he wants to write a Philosophy 101 textbook, an exposition on his personal brand of spirituality, or a ninja novel. A mix of all three ingredients doesn’t work and we have to toil through 873 pages to confirm this for ourselves.
Mercifully GDR is restrained when it comes to writing about sex. He does not indulge in pages of soft porn as so many blockbuster writers do. He keeps his purple passages for one dreadful poem and for emotional or soulful pages.
When Mountain finally staggers to a halt, with all loose ends tidied up, it’s an anti-climax. A review on Goodreads said something about a possible third Shantaram novel. No. Enough already. I enjoyed Shantaram, but his second outing on the theme is way, way too long.
What does work is GDR’s pages about the city of Bombay itself, its vibrant street life, its slums, mansions, and inhabitants; the myriad mini-stories of human struggles. I was intrigued to read about the business activities of the Bombay underworld, and the pervasive graft and corruption at all levels throughout the city. Even subtracting 50% of the accounts as literary hyperbole, it made me realise that the country I live in is in the junior league, compared to the shenanigans in Bombay. Which, in a weird way, makes me feel a little better. Maybe.
At the end of 2015, which has been a tough year, I needed a relaxing, escapist read. I guess GDR’s novel was it, but, boy oh boy, it was a long haul! Where was his editor, I wondered? Maybe if you’ve written a wildly successful blockbuster first novel like Shantaram, your editor treads softly.
Speaking of which, there’s an intriguing final page titled Proclaimer where GDR makes it crystal clear he does not endorse the criminal lifestyle, drugging, drinking or smoking, and has merely used them as foundations for his story. There’s a terse note on the back jacket flap that says GRD has retired from public life to pursue other projects and writing.I was intrigued, and a Google search led me to an in-depth interview with GDR by the Sydney Morning Herald. The interview was tagged ‘The final Interview with GDR’.You can find it at:
As ever, GDR has plenty to say.