Wednesday, June 07, 2017

'White Tears' by Hari Kunzru

7 June 2017

Having really enjoyed Hari Kunzru’s brilliant debut novel ‘The Impressionist’ (reviewed here in September 2013), I was looking forward to his latest book, ‘White Tears’, which I have just finished reading (as an unabridged audio book, narrated by Jonathan Todd Ross). ‘White Tears’ starts as a tale of two young, white record producers in contemporary New York who create a fake recording purporting to be an authentic 1930s blues track. They decide to call their imaginary black blues singer Charlie Shaw but are disconcerted when they are approached by someone who claims to have met Charlie Shaw in 1959. As the novel progresses boundaries between the present and past get increasingly blurred as we struggle to work out what is ‘authentic’. ‘White Tears’ at times feels like a ghost story, with the mythical singer seeking vengeance for the wrongs done to him a lifetime ago. The book uses magical realism to create a dreamlike atmosphere which reminded me of Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘The Unconsoled’. But unlike that often deliberately frustrating novel, ‘White Tears’ does eventually arrive at an explanation, of sorts. The first half of the book, with its its New York setting and two young partners in crime, reminded me of Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch’ (reviewed here in 2014). ‘White Tears is an interesting and ambitious undertaking and Hari Kunzru is clearly a very accomplished writer but I’m not convinced it fully worked. The book was slow to get going and felt far too long. It was hard to sympathise with any of the main characters and, although the denouement was cleverly satisfying, it was hard work getting to it.



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