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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach: About the book

Right from the get go, you know that while The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (formerly known as These Foolish Things) is about a group of older people, the tone is going to be anything but subdued and solemn, reverential and respectful. These are the opening paragraphs.

Muriel Donnelly, an old girl in her seventies, was left in a hospital cubicle for forty-eight hours. She had taken a tumble in Peckham High Street and was admitted with cuts, bruises and a suspected concussion. Two days she lay in A&E, untended, the blood stiffening on her clothes.
It made the headlines. TWO DAYS! screamed the tabloids. Two days on a trolley, old, neglected, alone. St. Jude’s was besieged by reporters, way-laying nurses and shouting into their mobiles, didn’t they know the things were forbidden? Photos showed her lolling gray head and black eye. Plucky pensioner, she had survived the Blitz for this?

In her fast and furious style, Deborah Moggach introduces us to a whirling dervish of characters, a dizzying array of ‘old-age pensioners’ (retirees as we call them here in the states) who for one reason or another, end up at something akin to an assisted-living facility in Bangalore, India.

Dr. Ravi Kapoor is the Indian-born, London-based doctor who is so fed up with his dirty old man father-in-law Norman, that he goes into business with his cousin Sonny, to open the hotel/retirement home back home in India, optimistically called The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. His wife, Penelope, flies with her father to get him settled in India while the doctor stays home.

Muriel, a feisty (and racist) Londoner is in India for health reasons but she’s also looking for her grown up son, Keith, who seems to have disappeared from England.

Jean and Douglas are an adventurous couple constantly on the go, seeing the sights. They are the archetypes of the British traveler; there isn’t a place they haven’t been. If Jean isn’t yammering on about this place or that, she’s talking about her son, the documentary film maker.

Dorothy is a retired documentary filmmaker herself. Her young former protégé happens to be Jean and Douglas’ son and seems to be her only friend.

At the heart of the book is Evelyn, a widow. Her son and his family live in New York. Her middle aged daughter Carol is an eternal seeker; and an annoyance to Evelyn who wishes she’d grow up and settle down. Evelyn is the soul of the narrative, the sensible but likeable one, the character we’re most invested in.

While The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel isn’t quite what anyone was expecting, it turns out to be exactly what everybody needs.

I discovered this book after hearing that it was being made into a film - the original title of the book is These Foolish Things and as near as I can make out it was first published in 2004.

I enjoyed this novel tremendously! It’s clear that Moggach is at heart a screenwriter. She wrote the 2005 adaptation of Pride & Prejudice which earned her a BAFTA nomination for Best Screenplay/Adapted. Her imdb credit list is long, dating back to 1983 and quite full of television series and includes 2010’s The Diary of Anne Frank for Masterpiece Theater.

Her style - in this novel at least - is light and fast, with chapters written much like scenes which pass by in a series of quick cuts. On the plus side, it’s quite clear and visual, we see every lovely and every ghastly sight we are meant to see. I was shocked to read that in Bangalore, there were (in 2004 at any rate) still people who defocated in the street! That's an image Moggach shares with us, along with descriptions of people sleeping in the street. As in Slum Dog Millionaire, it's sometimes difficult to divorce oneself from the difficult living conditions faced by the populace.

Since the characters are (mostly) older people, it's hard not to join them in their occasional bouts of nostalgia as well as their disappointments about what might have been and what there can still be. Moggach skillfully keeps it on the lighter side, for the most part, the characters don't get too maudlin or too depressed.

If they don’t delve too deeply, if we don’t have a lot of internal monologues, that’s a good thing in terms of a novel being adapted for the screen as this one has been. Taking a quick look at the synopsis of the film I can see the screenwriter, Ol Parker (he's the screenwriter behind the adaptation of Before I Die called Now is Good),  changed quite a few things around. I’m not sure if he's altered the ending, I hope not because it’s quite touching.  For me, seeing that there will be changes is a relief in a way. I won't be disappointed that it's not the same as the book because it isn't the book. I've had that experience, that magic. Nothing can change that. The film will be a different work of art completely. And I'm fine with that.

I'm looking forward to seeing Judi Dench as Evelyn, and Maggie Smith as Muriel. Dench seems like a natural for the part, a bit similar perhaps to her role in As Time Goes By.

And I love the idea of Maggie Smith playing one of the lower classes - I'm so accustomed to seeing her lording it over everyone in Downton Abbey.

FAVORITE LINE: I’m not sure if this is in the book but it’s in the film. Also not sure if it’s Paulo Coelho (The Alchemist) or who but I still appreciate it. Sonny, played by Dev Patel (Slum Dog Millionaire) says it:

Everything will be alright in the end. So if it is not alright, it is not the end. 

A heartening thought, don't you think?