When Delphine Munos went to attend a reading by Jhumpa Lahiri at Southbank, London, on 26th of September 2013, it turned out to be a rather disappointing affair.
The day before Jhumpa Lahiri’s reading at Southbank, I had just read her recent interview with Salon, in which she declared that she was “feeling finished.” Her new book, The Lowland, had been out for a few days only, along with the news that it had been longlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize (she did not win the Prize this year–now we know that). Still, Lahiri’s interview with Salon, and the chiaroscuro photograph of her that went with it, suggested that her mood was not one of celebration.
Upon entering the Purcell Room, I thus felt slightly apprehensive. I did not want Lahiri to feel finished. Lahiri’s previous books — Interpreter of Maladies (1999), The Namesake (2003), and Unaccustomed Earth (2008) — are unique in radiating a quiet form of individuality; they embrace labels, conventions, and traditions, only to shift the perspective around and reveal the double-lining of these categories, of what we’d thought was fixed and solid. In White Noise, one of Don DeLillo’s characters says that “the world is full of abandoned meaning. In the commonplace I find unexpected themes and intensity.” Some might scoff, thinking that there is nothing even remotely “commonplace” about books that deal with the trials of Bengali migration to the U.S, even when depicted at one generational remove.