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An outsider's inner world

I nvestigating outsiders has always been a powerful tool to explore how insiders work. The latest issue of Granta magazine (Rs 599, pp 264) gives us a special view of the glass from the rim. Indrajit Hazra writes.

entertainment Updated: Mar 26, 2011 12:15 IST
Indrajit Hazra

I nvestigating outsiders has always been a powerful tool to explore how insiders work. The latest issue of Granta magazine (Rs 599, pp 264) gives us a special view of the glass from the rim. 'Beach', by the late Roberto Bolaño, is a startling four-page first-person narrative of an ex-junkie's visitations to the seaside. Written in one heaving paragraphless sentence - the commas and three pairs of brackets pacing the narrative flow - we see the world and its inhabitants as a menagerie that includes an old couple, a woman who never sits on the sand, and a fellow ex-drug addict cradling his child.

Aravind Adiga's extract from his forthcoming novel, Last Man in Tower, is less of a blood rush, but it develops its horror - of old age, of familial exclusion - through telling images that include a rush hour Mumbai train ride and a mysterious beast in the zoo (a companion creature to Delhi zoo's white tiger?) that is revealed to be a hyena. Despite the odd clunky line ("in the dim first-class compartment men multiplied like isotopes"), Adiga brings us to the antechamber of the alienated.

Robert MacFarlane mixes the personal with the political in Walking on the West Bank. Julie Otsuka in Come, Japanese!, about the journey across the sea of illegal migrants, ends with the quiet thud of a soggy bento box: "This is America, we would say to ourselves, there is no need to worry. And we would be wrong." "It is the happy, often pompous delusion of the alien," writes Paul Theroux in English Hours, "that he or she is a witness to an era of significant change."

This book is a confirmation of the theory that to see a picture you have to step out of the frame. Even if there's never a right way of seeing the picture.