Quill and Quire


« Back to
Book Reviews

The Cripple and His Talismans

by Anosh Irani

In the five years since Anosh Irani immigrated to Vancouver from Bombay he’s been quite busy. He’s graduated from UBC’s creative writing program, had his first play produced, and now we have his debut novel.

The Cripple and His Talismans is an absurdist fairytale set in a Bombay where everything is for sale. Along with the cigarette shops and the egg-sellers’ carts, we find brothels, chickens that practise black magic, human limbs of every description, and even a woman selling rainbows. The unnamed narrator of the book, who has somehow lost his left arm, must navigate through the city, following clues given to him along the way, in order to regain his missing limb. “In this city,” he comments at one point “you need a thick skin and a solver of riddles.”

Darkly comic and brave, this novel has no fear when it comes to facing the lepers, beggars, and prostitutes of the city. Irani seeks out territory that would frighten away other writers, but he also has a tendency to go far out of his way for a joke. In one set-piece, the narrator applies for a job as a suicide bomber. The dialogue here, funny as it is, doesn’t fit with the tone of the rest of the book – suddenly, the narrator is not the victim of his world’s absurdity, but one of its creators. Irani can also be in such a hurry to move from one comic incident to the next that the reader can barely keep up. His restless vision of Bombay occasionally feels like a motorcycle tour of the Louvre: the effect is dizzying and you’ve only gotten a taste of the place’s beauty and strangeness.

Despite these problems, the book’s sheer audacity and humour elevate it well above the level of many first novels. Maybe one day, a Canadian writer will move to Bombay and write an ambitious and funny book about the magical, absurd underbelly of Vancouver. After this debut by Irani, we owe the city that much.