So I just read Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and while I can't say it wasn't a quick and entertaining read, I have to wonder: How did this slight novel, narrated by a young Pakistani, make the Man Booker shortlist? It's irrelevant, of course; Anne Enright's The Gathering won, and as we all know, awards tend to be somewhat baffling in nature. (Yes, I'm bitter over the fact that Martin Amis has never won a Booker, and his only book to be shortlisted was the show-offy Time's Arrow, a good book but far from his best.)
Hamid's novel is set up as sort of a monologue, with the narrator sitting at a cafe in Lahore telling his tale to an unidentified American. As daylight trickles away, we learn how the narrator went from being an Ivy League prodigy to asset valuation whiz to an angry, embittered soul in the wake of 9/11. The book's simplicity is appealing, and it's interesting to enter the mind of an essentially decent man from a culture wildly different than our own. It's jarring to hear that his first reaction to seeing the planes hit the Twin Towers is to smile. "Please believe me when I tell you that I am no sociopath; I am not indifferent to the sufferings of others. . . I was caught up in the symbolism of it all, the fact that someone had so visibly brought America to her knees."
Provocative stuff. What's less interesting is the narrator's infatuation with an American girl and a sense of anticlimax at the book's finale. I wouldn't advise against reading The Reluctant Fundamentalist, but I can't share the Booker voters' adoration of it, either.