I found this book in the W. H. Smith in Piccadilly station while waiting for my train to Liverpool to renew my British passport. I can, by the way, wholly recommend the Passport Office’s one day service.
Perhaps it wasn’t actually the best choice of “light” reading for me at quite this moment as I have returned to the UK to arrange the funeral for my mother and take care of all the other responsibilities concomitant upon a death. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is about people who move to India because for various reasons they are too poor to retire comfortably in England. People die in the novel, and people suffer the indignities of becoming older and frailer. People also meet and fall in love.
In many ways, the novel is a novel of discovery. The characters discover themselves and the truth about themselves and their situation. In many ways, too, it is a novel about reconciliation between the old and the new and the past and the present. Marriages dissolve, marriages are made and marriages regenerate. There are coincidences such as Dorothy’s, realizing the hotel occupies the building where once she went to school.
Along with the participants in the action, we discover the new India and the changed Britain. Although many of the characters are nostalgic for times past, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is not itself a nostalgic novel. It is slightly ironic and gently humorous. The world it presents is a world where adult children are irritated with their parents, where husbands and wives are living together because to do so is convenient, where corruption and sheer criminality are real factors in people’s lives. But it is also a novel that ends with reconciliations and marriages, a novel that suggests that there are possibilities.
The movie adaptation is way more light-hearted and, of course, is a sheer delight to watch simply because the ensemble cast that includes Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith, Celia Imre, and Ronald Pickup are just so good that one has pleasure in their acting. The movie also focuses a little more than the novel on the young Indians and some changes are made to the original storyline.
However, both versions remind us that while change is inevitable and not always necessarily for the best, human emotional and moral strengths and frailties remain. Both works, too, remind us that to be old is not be useless or emotionless, and that both young and old have to deal with life by “mak[ing] it up as we go along” (274).