Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, by Deborah Moggach, is a delightful book, perfect for summer reading.  At the start of the novel, we are introduced to Norman Purse, a 70-something rogue who has been thrown out of his retirement home for "inappropriate sexual behavior."  This is not the first incident of its kind.  Once again, Norman comes to live with his daughter, Pauline, and son-in-law, Dr. Ravi Kapoor.

Norman is quite a character.  He tells lewd jokes, talks about bodily functions, smokes in Ravi's home office, downloads pornographic sites to his computer, and lacks all sense of privacy.  Ravi, who comes home exhausted as an emergency room physician, feels he has no place to rest.  Ravi is pushed to a breaking point when a patient, the elderly Muriel Donnelly, is left untreated in the emergency room for 2 days after being robbed.  The media learn of this and make Ravi's hospital and the NHS a lead story.  The truth, however, is that Muriel would not allow "a darkie" to touch her.

After Norman carelessly leaves his soiled handkerchiefs boiling in Ravi's favorite curry pot, nearly burning down the house, Ravi is determined to take action.  In a providential meeting with his cousin, Sonny, a plan is hatched.  Sonny proposes they purchase a rundown hotel in Bangalore (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) that dates back to 1865.

Moggach gives loving detail to the hotel, allowing it to become yet another character in the novel. The Marigold was originally a large bungalow built by boxwallah Henry Fowler.  After India's independence and the departure of the British, it was turned into a guest house.  In the 1960s, an annex, some air conditioning, and "temperamental plumbing" were added.  As Bangalore became a high-tech oasis, neighboring bungalows were demolished and new hotels and office buildings sprang up.  The Marigold began to languish from neglect and financial difficulties.  Its owner, Minoo, kept it for sentimental reasons.

Once Sonny is able to convince Minoo to sell The Marigold and hire him as its manager, he and Ravi set out to get residents.  Norman is convinced into coming by the allure of Indian women.  Others, including Muriel, are forced by frailty and dwindling pensions to leave the homes of their birth and venture forward.

Moggach has written a fast-paced comedy with engaging and sympathetic characters.  She highlights the indignities of growing old in a society where nuclear families do not exist.  She delves into the complexities of marriage and children, filial duty vs. self-realization.  And she does so in a zany romp through the streets of Bangalore, giving the reader a good look at the squalor amidst the glamorous hotels and new service industries.

This book is now a major motion picture starring Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, and Dev Patel.

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