I have something to confess: I announced that I was going to read new books by emerging authors but I’ve failed right out of the gate. I did dutifully check the London Review Bookshop site for inspiration, but I didn’t find anything that grabbed me so I ended up reading Philip Hensher’s ‘The Mulberry Empire’. This passes the ‘new’ requirement but not the ’emerging’, as Hensher has written other novels and even won an award, God damn him.
I chose it because I’m interested in the history of the Great Game and in Central Asia in general (hence my aforementioned trip to Uzbekistan). I would recommend it, especially to anyone who has read Peter Hopkirk’s brilliant history ‘The Great Game’ which I’m reading now.
It’s a bit of an odd book (Hensher’s, not Hopkirk’s). The narrative is divided between England and various places in Central Asia and India, especially Kabul and Calcutta leading up to the First Afghan War. There are a good many characters to remember; perhaps too many, and the focus shifts between a lot of them. There is a lot of wit in the narrative, and it’s well written. However, towards the end it turns into another book; the terrible massacre of British forces doesn’t sit well with the tone of the rest of the book, in my opinion, and the parallels between then and the current situation in Afghanistan are telegraphed about as subtly as a brick through a window. The structure of the book – divided as it is into many parts, and shared between many characters – means that it never quite develops into a ripsnorter, despite the subject matter.
It is certainly worth reading though, as the characters, mainly historical figures, are well drawn and the narrative structure is interesting. ‘The Great Game’ by Peter Hopkirk is more heartily recommended though.
Anyway, neither book is a new work by an emerging author, so I give myself a rap over the knuckles for that. Once I finish the Hopkirk I’ll have another go.