British novelist Paul Pickering’s ‘Elephant’ is a love story with an Indian connection
The elephant culturally symbolises India more than any other country and British novelist Paul Pickering says the pachyderm in his new novel has her roots in India.
According to the author, his book Elephant is an affirmation of “I am my voice”.
“And my voice is as big as an elephant, which in turn is as big as creation. In the love story between Natasha and the man in Paris, the novel explores the interface between fact and fiction; the man in Paris uses the story of the elephant to get Natasha to go back to her first love, her voice, poetry,” he says.
In a country house in England, a precocious teenage exile from revolutionary Russia sets down his adventures on paper, beginning with his first ball in St. Petersburg and how he frees a huge African elephant from a cruel circus.
But a hundred years later, an American academic feels the boy may have invented the elephant as the only kind and uplifting being in dark times.
“This fast moving story is on the side of the individual and against nationalism, authoritarianism, scapegoating, fake news and the cancel culture that seeks to obliterate the boy at the heart of the story from history and that is why he commits it to paper,” Pickering told PTI.
Enfolding the love story and the journey is the Elephant, which Natasha realises is the raw power of the universe; yet always looking for a good outcome in line with the survival of the planet.
The book, published by Salt Publishing, spans two historical periods which correspond to the end of the rational modern (with the mass use of the machine gun) and the end of the postmodern and poststructuralist (with the rise of the internet), to a new metamodernism, a new, again individual-based, existentialism.
Pickering says an Indian elephant being tormented by a trainer saves the boy’s life and after the African elephant’s calf is taken from her for a warlord’s banquet, an Indian elephant kills her trainer by tearing him in two.
“… In a philosophical sense, in the way that she is on a higher plane and towers over everything, the elephant of my story has her roots in India,” he says.
Pickering, who authored the acclaimed novel Over the Rainbow, says that book is about the stories “we tell ourselves and others, and how the Afghans have always told better stories to defeat the British”.
He also says he wants to come to India to “write a novel based on the story of my wife’s great aunt, a post-colonial story”.
According to Pickering, not only do Indian writers often have a far better command of the language, but, “looking from outside, also possibly understand the English character better, especially in its slightly chaotic and hopelessly diminished post-imperial role”.
His favourite is Vikram Seth, whose prose, he says, is the “envy of anyone writing in English”. He also likes the “complex simplicity of Arundhati Roy in The God of Small Things, which stands up for the individual against scapegoating cancel culture”.
“If Salman Rushdie can be classed as an Indian writer I admire the Shakespearean sweep of his novels and an ability to mix genres, to combine comedy, love stories and tragedy in the same book,” he adds.