Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Cauliflower: A Novel by Nicola Barker

From Man Booker-shortlisted, IMPAC Award-winning author Nicola Barker comes an exuberant, multi-voiced new novel mapping the extraordinary life and legacy of a 19th-century Hindu saint

He is only four years older, but still I call him Uncle, and when I am with Uncle I have complete faith in him. I would die for Uncle. I have an indescribable attraction towards Uncle. . . . It was ever thus.

To the world, he is Sri Ramakrishna--godly avatar, esteemed spiritual master, beloved guru (who would prefer not to be called a guru), irresistible charmer. To Rani Rashmoni, she of low caste and large inheritance, he is the brahmin fated to defy tradition and preside over the temple she dares to build, six miles north of Calcutta, along the banks of the Hooghly for Ma Kali, goddess of destruction. But to Hriday, his nephew and longtime caretaker, he is just Uncle--maddening, bewildering Uncle, prone to entering ecstatic trances at the most inconvenient of times, known to sneak out to the forest at midnight to perform dangerous acts of self-effacement, who must be vigilantly safeguarded not only against jealous enemies and devotees with ulterior motives, but also against that most treasured yet insidious of sulfur-rich vegetables: the cauliflower.

Rather than puzzling the shards of history and legend together, Barker shatters the mirror again and rearranges the pieces. The result is a biographical novel viewed through a kaleidoscope. Dazzlingly inventive and brilliantly comic, irreverent and mischievous, The Cauliflower delivers us into the divine playfulness of a 21st-century literary master.
I had some prejudice, I admit! Technically, The Cauliflower is the biographical account of the life of Sri Ramakrishna. I have prepared myself for the most boring read of my entire life... But this is so much more than that! The book is divided into short sections, varying from a few words to a few pages, with no apparent chronological or discernible order to them. Which I believe is what led me to the conclusion that it is well researched but reads inauthentically. The Cauliflower manages to combine so many different cultural aspects that ends up as being at the same time brilliant and a bit MEH(the element of indifference). You may find the author irreverent, flippant, jarring and annoyingly non linear but then consider the man she is attempting to bring to life on the pages of a book. She had no other choice! 
This book probably won't fit the image of anything you expect it to be. It is speculative and experimental fiction. I'm not a stranger to the more speculative, new and experimental fiction. In fact I enjoy out of the box reads, you just never know what you're going to get. A box of chocolates scenario. It's virtuosic writing, with wild, unsignposted cuts between times and places, with different narrative voices and with varying styles including the odd remark addressed directly to the reader. But it is not for everyone. 4FOXGIVEN