Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Hungry Ghosts: A Novel by Keith Kachtick

A womanising, drug-taking, hard drinking, materialist photographer has become interested in Buddhism.
His search for 'a path' is partly driven by a mid-life crisis and disillusion at how shallow he has become.
He surfs the net for porn, buys the latest gadgets at a whim and dresses in designer clothing.
Carter Cox is a travel and fashion photographer who lives in New York but who gets to visit some of the most exotic places in the world.
Yet he does have a social conscience and is moved by what he encounters when he works on an assignment to photograph street children in Guatemala.
Back in New York he offers himself as a volunteer and ends up becoming a weekly visitor to Christopher, an English Buddhist practitioner who is dying from Aids.
Although Christopher only strays into the story now and again his presence resonates throughout the novel, even after his death. His last words are: "This should be interesting."
Carter takes up meditation and mindfulness but struggles to shake off the materialistic aspects of his life, including his promiscuity.
Carter's behaviour can be cringe-inducing, but he is rounded character full of good intentions but undermined by human weakness.
His materialism and avowed determination to pursue a Buddhist path to enlgihtenment are challenged when he meets Mia at a retreat.
She is a devout Catholic, although open to other religions, and is 13 years younger than Carter.
Once again Kachtick creates a character with depth who once considered becoming a nun but who is as vulnerable to human frailties.
She is besotted with Carter and comes to stay in his Manhattan apartment and he is torn between a desire to revert to form and seduce her and to respect her vow of celibacy.
They travel to Morocco for a photo shoot, with Mia acting as Carter's assistant, and become both emotionally and increasingly physically involved.
Hungry Ghost works well in that it delivers a pacey story, with a number of surprising twists, while at the same time introducing some fairly in-depth Tibetan Buddhist doctrines.
It teeters on the verge of tweeness at times, but then rescues itself with some surprising diversions, including a glimpse into the afterlife from the perspective of the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
The ending, however. is slightly baffling and I'm not reallys sure what happens, if anything.


Fionnchú said...

Tony, thanks for your review. The ending made more sense to me, but before it, the novel did swerve, didn't it, daringly?

After it, I read "American Psycho" by Bret Easton Ellis and I admit KK "borrowed" from it in terms of the brand-name overload to show yuppie greed and boom years acquisition. I understand why the use of so many labels, but as so many were lost on impecunious me, I wondered how others will regard this narrative once it's past its "shelf life."

Still, for the second-person p-o-v (many before me on Amazon were bewildered by it), it's explained very early on and I liked its tone. The narrative p-o-v fits given the theme of the novel, but perhaps it's too subtle or too self-aware (!) for many readers.

Compare my take on this thoughtful novel: Amazon US.

Tony Bailie said...

Another one you put me on to John.
I liked the second person narration... have only seen it used once before and it was very effective in this novel.