Friday, 19 July 2013

New Khaled Hosseini book no echo of novels past

My book club has just had the pleasure of reading and discussing Khaled Hosseini's new book And the Mountains Echoed. Hosseini says the title was drawn from the William Blake poem 'The Nurse's Song' in which he ends a verse with the line: 'And all the hills echoed'. Hosseini says echoes have a ripple effect, expanding outward, touching lives further and further away.
First up, I think the key to appreciating And the Mountains Echoed is to realise that it is structurally very different from The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. Rather, it is a collection of not-so disparate stories. They are stories about the choices we make and the consequences of those choices - whether they be right or wrong. Hosseini writes of the many different types of love beginning with a fable of ogres and child kidnapping. This fairy-tale sets the reader up with valuable clues - after all, the next day, the father who told the tale sells his daughter to a wealthy, childless couple. Readers can only wonder at the extreme poverty and desperation that would drive a parent to do such a thing. We feel the remaining sibling's sadness and the hopelessness of their reunion which comes, sadly, too late. Hosseini then tells the stories of unconventional love, in this case an employer’s love for his driver, revealed in a posthumous letter; and the driver who is then obliged (happily) to care for his disabled boss when the employer's wife deserts him. What follows are more 'love stories' which are invariably accompanied by guilt, duty, abandonment, forgiveness and absolution. Even the character who we think makes the 'right' decision to abandon her own dreams to care for her ailing and increasingly-difficult father says:
“It was the kind of love that, sooner or later, cornered you into a choice: either you tore free or you stayed and withstood its rigor even as it squeezed you into something smaller than yourself.”

My enjoyment of the book was marred by my haste in trying to stitch the stories together - too soon. Admittedly, the first few stories were linked, before new protagonists were introduced - their whole lives lived and laid bare - which confused me somewhat.The only indication of different stories was the title of each - a year and a season. Sometimes, Hosseini moved on to a new 'story' complete with a new protagonist without heralding a change in time and place, which only added to my confusion. In an interview with The Huffington Post, Hosseini says the toughest part of writing the book was writing from the many different perspectives of each character. 
"There were a lot of plates spinning in this one, due to the multi-perspective structure of the novel. That was both the toughest - and, of course, the most thrilling - part of writing this book." 
I'm not sure he achieved greatness here, however, as I don't feel he really captured the different ages, genders and social backgrounds in each character's voice. This is my only criticism of the book. 
Look out for Hosseini's trademark whimsical sadness - in this case - of opportunities missed. The tea box of feathers, when it is uncovered years later, is perhaps one of the saddest things I have ever read, made more powerful by Hosseini's lack of emotion. The reader knows the significance of the feathers but, alas, the characters do not and the result is incredibly sad. This technique is something aspiring writers should think about and emulate if they want their work to really shine.

Khaled Hosseini fans looking for the ends to tie up as they did in his previous two novels, won’t be completely disappointed, but my advice on reading And the Mountains Echoed is this – don’t go looking for them too early – just enjoy the read because I think this latest novel is his best yet.