Kim by Rudyard Kipling (1900) 321 p.
This is the 100th book review I’ve done for Grub Street. I was hoping to time it so that I could review The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, the first novel David Mitchell has released since I discovered him, and the first novel I can remember really looking forward to, but I’m travelling with my friend at the moment and we’ve only got the one copy between us and he’s taking forever to read it. So Kim it is.
Which is a shame, because I don’t have a lot to say about Kim. It’s a classic novel by Rudyard Kipling, often considered his finest, which follows the early life of Kimball O’Hara: an Irish orphan who grows up in India, speaking the language and living as a native, who is picked up by the British and groomed to become a spy.
Kim is ostensibly a spy novel, but Kipling spends far more time being enchanted by the bustle and whirl of India, like a giddy schoolchild with his hands clapped to his cheeks. I understand that he loved the country, but there’s a difference between creating a vibrant setting and having the setting completely overwhelm the novel.
The prose is also quite stilted (“thou,” “thee,” “hast”) and the many social layers and relationships and castes of India are downright confusing. Throughout the majority of this book I had only the faintest idea of what was going on, which is always maddening. The middle section, where Kim is picked up by his father’s old regiment and then sent to a British school, was the most understandable and thus the most enjoyable, because Kim was surrounded by the plain and easy-to-follow British rather than the confusing whirlwind of Sikhs, Jains, Bhuddists, Hindus, Muslims, Urdu, Punjabi, lamas, chelas, etc. Maybe I’m missing the point of the book, but I’ve been travelling through Asia for four months now, and exoticism no longer holds any lustre for me.
Overall, Kim was not the kind of book I was expecting it to be, and not an easy book to read. Oh well. Happy 100th book review, Grub Street!