Literary Ambition Without Borders
Monday, January 22, 2007
Not long after he'd finally completed a draft of his massive new novel, "Sacred Games," Vikram Chandra found himself immersed in a painful literary task:
He had to try to make the thing shorter.
After all, it wasn't supposed to be 900 pages long.
When he started, Chandra thought he was writing "a small, local crime kind of story." It would confine itself to maybe 300 pages and one geographic locale, the Indian city of Mumbai. It would be the sort of tale where you begin with a couple of dead bodies "but the solution is straightforward and it works like a mystery."
Right. Seven years later, he and his wife, Melanie Abrams -- also a writer -- found themselves experimentally excising whole chapters, looking to reduce the weight of the Victorian-size literary thriller Chandra had produced instead.
"Sacred Games" relates, in alternating chapters, the life story of a legendary Indian gang lord and the efforts of a relatively low-level Mumbai police inspector to investigate his death. After retreating to a heavily fortified bunker, the gangster has shot himself, along with a female companion. The fate of the city formerly known as Bombay -- and perhaps the rest of the world -- rests on the inspector's ability to figure out why.
Not much to cut there. But what about the series of what Chandra has labeled "insets," lengthy chunks of back story intended to widen and deepen the central narrative? Might they be cuttable, Chandra and Abrams wondered?
No, they weren't. Without them, "it became to me a flat book," Chandra says.
So he gave up and sent it to his agent.
Who sent it on to a batch of New York publishers.