Indian woman walking on concrete steps

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize—a prize I deeply respect—is a book of great beauty, absolutely Proustian in language. A Passage North, by Anuk Arudpragasam, did not win (the winner was announced here), but is a powerful read that I recommend to all who love psychologically deep, beautifully crafted language.

The novel is packed with extremely long sentences that wind in and out of ideas, dazzling the reader with their intellect and loveliness and often pain, landing with a period in just the right spot. This is what I mean by Proustian.

Here is an example of one of those spectacular sentences. The protagonist is stunned by the chance meeting of a woman who changes his life forever, for better and for worse. His thought process about this sort of profound coincidence runs as follows:

“You could follow the thread of habit day in and day out, lost in studies and in work, among friends and colleagues and family, clasping this thread tightly with both hands so as not to lose your way, and then all of a sudden one morning or afternoon or evening, sipping on a cup of tea at work or going to a friend’s house on the weekend, you could come across a person or place or even an image of a person or place that suggested other possibilities, that brought to mind a completely different life, a life you might have lived or might still live, so that suddenly the life you’d been living for the last so many months or years, a life that till that very moment seemed fulfilling, satisfactory, or tolerable at least, became, with the soundless flicking of a switch, empty and hollow, lacking any connection to the person you felt you were or wanted to be.”

Like a passage from Marcel Proust, this passage says nothing that you don’t already intuitively know—but it says it in such an elaborately lovely way that your breath is taken away by the end of the sentence. And that’s the overriding experience of reading A Passage North, by Anuk Arudpragasam.

Have you ever encountered someone or something so phenomenally important to you that your life was forever changed?

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