"This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force." Dorothy Parker
Throughout the first 150 pages, I was willing to give Shantaram
the benefit of the doubt, seeing as I embarked upon it with a heart opened and crushed by A Fine Balance,
and hoping it would achieve something similar. The latter is an altogether brilliant novel about India, set approximately in the same time (or just prior), and one that is so vastly superior to this in style and substance that it might as well be the Taj Mahal to Shantaram's slum. Or the reverse, depending on where your romanticism leads you.
I'm not sure which was worse: Roberts' purple prose or his expositional aphorisms, intended to convey hard-won and worldly wisdom, but succeeding only at being laughably sophomoric. He creates an entire character whose sole purpose (at least, up until I abandoned this monstrosity) is to issue them, be mysterious and furnish the author with an opportunity to describe the colour green (as in, natch, her eyes). I think she has a name; I don't care what it is, nor do I care about her, any of the other characters, or the vast numbers of things that happen to them, without the plot moving forward even an inch.
When last I left Shantaram,
a tame mouse had been crucified and cholera had hit the slums, killing hundreds. Instead of empathy, revulsion, pity or curiosity, I mustered up only the wherewithal to stop reading. Shantaram did what only the worst novels do: rendered a cast of potentially interesting characters less interesting with every additional detail offered, and made an exotic landscape and rich culture one-dimensional and colourless. As for the main character's supposedly autobiographical story, well -- I certainly hope he managed to work it all out by p. 936, but I'll be leaving him and his moral wallowing at p. 386, and that's about 350 pages too late.