After reading a novel about an old lady with Alzheimers who might have murdered her best friend, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel provided a much more lighthearted and welcome perspective on growing older and the possibilities that lie ahead before death comes. The writing is often funny, making fun of Brits and Indians, the young and the old, but with an underlying kindness that takes away the bite.
The plot is simple: an Indian doctor in London, married to an Anglo woman, is sick and tired of his crass and randy father-in-law’s presence in his home. Norman has been kicked out of several homes and Ravi is at the end of his rope. After confiding his desperation to his businessman cousin Sonny, Sonny and Ravi develop a scheme to build an old folks home for Brits in Bangalore. The story follows the first year of the hotel/home’s operation and involves a colorful cast of characters — pensioners of varied backgrounds, hotel staff with their own problems and frustrations, and the country of India, which seems to have a hypnotizing allure for those who visit.
The introduction of the elderly Brits is sometimes funny and sometimes poignant. Norman is initially uninterested in moving to India until he hears that the hot young women are plentiful and accommodating. Evelyn is somewhat estranged from her children and lonely. Muriel is a feisty cockney woman who has been mugged and is desperate to find her son, who is on the run from the law. The Ainslies seem to have an enviable marriage and make the most of the opportunities the India affords them. But of course, as we see through the unfolding of the tale, there is so much more to each of them. The crass and bigoted fogeys can be sentimental and kind, the unassuming lady who fades into the woodwork can be bold and daring, and those who seem to have it all may have problems, too.
There’s a lot of “the grass is always greener” theme in this book. The Brits come to appreciate the Indian ways of revering family and approaching life with joy and acceptance. The Indians seem to want to leave for England and escape the suffocating effects of familial obligations and lack of opportunity. In the end, it’s a sweet story about appreciating the golden years, accepting mortality and being ready to try something new, no matter what your age. This is not great literature, but using the General Maximus standard from Gladiator, I must say, I was entertained.