Monday, 17 August 2015

The Gate of the Hundred Sorrows by Rudyard Kipling Review (Little Black Classics #24)

This Penguin Little Black Classic collects Thrown Away, False Dawn, In the House of Suddhoo, The Bisara of Pooree, The Gate of the Hundred Sorrows, and The Story of Muhammed Din, all taken from Plain Tales from the Hills. 

Rudyard Kipling’s stories are all set in colonial India where he grew up. They’re also a lot darker and more realistic than the fantastical kind he became famous for in The Jungle Books and Just So Stories. 

Unfortunately there’s not a lot of good stuff in this short collection. Thrown Away is about a young officer who led a rather sheltered life and committed suicide over his gambling debts. The narrator is a colleague who, along with his Major, cover up his shameful death for his family’s sake and say he died of cholera, a more acceptable way to go apparently! The story showcases (imaginary) English nobility at its best and worst – leading to a young man’s pointless death and the thoughtfulness bestowed upon him by fellow Englishmen trying to make things seem better for his people. 

False Dawn is a farcical story of an officer who proposes to a woman in a sandstorm, inadvertently asking her less-appealing sister instead. The narrator asks the officer why he didn’t wait until after the sandstorm to propose – and the reader is left wondering the same thing! 

The Gate of the Hundred Sorrows is the most memorable story here, though that’s not saying much. It’s about opium addiction and a particular den run by a Chinese man who let the narrator smoke in peace. I say story but really it’s a portrait of the hopeless and sad life of a drug addict. 

The other stories passed me by without leaving any impression whatsoever. I’ve a feeling Suddhoo or Pooree had something to do with Indian magic as practised in rural areas but I couldn’t be sure. Muhammed Din – no idea. Extremely forgettable. 

Kipling was a fine writer who told some brilliant stories, none of which appear in this collection. The ones that do are well-written and, unfortunately, not at all interesting.

The Gate of the Hundred Sorrows

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