Author Paul Theroux presents his story "Monkey Hill" as the first of three novellas in his collection The Elephanta Suite. He lets us share in Beth's and Audie's month-long stay at a health spa somewhere in the foothills of the Himalayas.
The reader learns how differently the couple reacts to the India they are experiencing. Audie recognizes his life-long futile chase after the "new" as nothing but deception and repetition. Wealthy, he learns his wealth has bought him essentially nothing. He teeters on the brink of losing hope at this turn of events, while nevertheless enjoying the ride.
Beth, on the other hand, is aroused and assumes a new independence of thought and action. Yoga and her massage therapist create a fresh awareness of her body and of how she has spent her life waiting for Audie. The scenes and smells of a nearby town, the Muslim-Hindu conflict, the story of the elephant, the monkeys, all frighten her. She is stricken and adventuresome.
Read this novella, dear writers, to learn how Theroux skillfully wields the quasi-forbidden "head hopping" which occurs throughout, and of how he does not need to wait till a subsequent section to switch the POV. We are never in doubt about whose impressions he is rendering.
Read the novella to encounter the charm of the Indian storyteller, Dr. Nagaraj, who chatters on and on: in the restaurant, driving to the "holy town," at the shop where Beth buys five-thousand-dollar shatooshes, walking up the hill to the spa. The charm of his monologue is his non-stop talking, taking up today where he left off yesterday, and finally arriving at the crux of his story. His grandmother has seen him as the instrument of release for a boy who flees a stampeding elephant. We are so enthralled by Dr. Nagaraj we forget Theroux is the storyteller behind the storyteller. (A writer can learn something from this.)
But there's something more we discover about Beth - she sees, she experiments, and she comes to herself, so to speak. There's more to me than anyone realizes, she tells herself. And so, both she and Audie achieve their own deliverance. Thus Dr. Nagaraj's story is a useful metaphor skillfully delivered by Theroux.
After their simultaneous adventures and without understanding the cause, husband and wife are forced to exit the spa as Theroux-style examples of "ugly Americans." In this subterranean comedy, the joke's on them.
ABOUT CAROLE MERTZ
editor's note: All reviews are the sole opinion of the author. They are not an endorsement by Page & Spine. -NKW