The Elephanta Suite

The Elephanta Suite delivers three loosely-related stories of Americans travelling and living in India. In ‘Monkey Hill’ a long-married couple, Audie and Beth Blunden, grow apart while holidaying in a cloistered health spa at the foot of the Himalayas. As the Blundens’ attractions to their respective massage therapists grow, the tension between Hindus and Muslims in the area reaches a similar breaking point. ‘The Gateway of India’ follows Dwight, a businessman posted in Mumbai, as he transforms from frightened outsider to dhal-eating local. Dwight is a difficult character to like when his comfort rests on forging uneven business deals with local contractors and buying sex from teenagers. Alice lives a double life in ‘The Elephant God’. Her lifestyle at the Sai Baba ashram contrasts starkly with her job as an American accent coach in one of Bangalore’s thriving call centers.

The Elephanta Suite creates an India that is teeming with dangerous sensuality. All three stories build inexorably to a crisis; the protagonists each ultimately veering out of control. Theroux is undeniably adept at evoking the exotic, and I found his writing well paced and engaging, though I was at times mildly irritated with the prurient nature of his characters.

Leanne Hall is from Readings Carlton