Had I realised it was a children's novel I might have given it an easier time. This has highlighted rather than my awareness of poor writing, the difference between adult and child fiction (this was an award winner for crying out loud)... *SIGH*
Take this extract for example. I feel it is poorly written, a tell that is a sweeping statement to save the author coming up with a better way of showing what she means:
'Poor Pinto,' he murmured , and fell silent again. Although he said no more, everyone realised he was saying he was sorry for the role he had played in Pinto's death, for being responsible for it in a way.
I mean... seriously? Surely that's a leap to make?!
Another extract shows up something that many writers seem to do (from what I've seen), describing something through a show and then telling it as well - doubling everything up unnecessarily (though of course, this being aimed at children, might be necessary):
'There are enough bad character in this city - thugs, murderers, thieves, gamblers, drunkards - why not go after them instead? Why not start with those drunkards playing cards in that corner over there? They make life unsafe for us who live in this locality, we are all afraid to come to this park because of them - not because of this poor bou who has no home and nowhere to sleep,' he said.
The policeman stood chewing his moustache uncertainly. 'Hr-umph,' he grunted, not knowing quite what to do. The bent old man had made him feel ashamed of bullying a child when there was adult work to be done: tackling the real criminals of the city.
It's truly awful.
To be fair though, it's not that bad. The ending draws nice synchronicity with the beginning, returning us full circle, and even though I personally found the Dickensian style ending too happy-go-la-la considering everything the family's been through, it's far more engaging than the opening.And for every unnecessary line or repetition (as in:
He thought of the sails one saw along the horizon and the lights of the boats by night which were visible from the beach. He thought of the catch coming in in the evenings, the voices of the women quarrelling over the baskets of shining fish on the sand. He thought... He thought... He thought... He thought... He thought...
which I found really grating) there are well established moments of tension, where Desai maintains suspense across two separate story threads.
In Crace's The Pesthouse our two heroes are split up by bandits and though until this point the story has originated and stayed with Franklin, because it is Franklin who is kidnapped and Franklin who is in peril, it is Franklin's thread which goes cold. We then follow Sarah's story (I believe she's called Sarah) until we meet up with Franklin again. Then, at that point we travel back in time to revisit what has happened to Franklin in this time - Crace choosing not to hold off giving the reader this info for as long as possible.
Desai uses a form of this in two incidents in her book. Firstly, as we come up to the end of Act One, we have spent the day with Hari, which was a functional account really and rather boring. But as he returns home at the end of the day, his story merges with whatever has been occuring to his family:
He went into the hut, Pinto bounding ahead of him. They looked up at him. Their sad, frightened faces made him cry out, 'What has happened?'
And we move into the next chapter, recounting the day's tribulations and horrors.
Towards the end of the book we are with Hari again, following his life in Bombay. We hear of the loss of boats over the news from his village - from a great distance so that we cannot know the ins and outs, but only Hari's concerns and worries. Again, it isn't until we go back with him that we meet up with his family's story thread.
Desai is also good at the judicious use of description to evoke time and place... not as per my usual fashion of throwing all and sundry at the reader in the hope they will understand where they are:
'Let's go home and eat,' cried Bella, suddenly very hungry.
'Run - I'll race you,' shouted Hari and they set off, shouting.
The horizon was brightly lit by the sun that seemed to be melting into the sea like a globe of molten glass. The sky had paled to lemon-yellow and in the east it was already mauve. A star appeared, the brilliant evening star that was always the first to shine.
But it's a poop book, so don't read it. I'm sure her other ones are much better.