The Mountain Shadow by Gregory David Roberts - Lunchtime Lit With Mel

Updated on February 12, 2019
Mel Carriere profile image

Postal wordsmith Mel Carriere fancies himself a literary reviewer, an activity he has fun doing but gets him but a trickle of traffic

Modern Mumbai in the Shadow of Mountains
Modern Mumbai in the Shadow of Mountains | Source

The Art of Aphorism Ad Nauseam

Sometimes when authors achieve fame they become full of themselves. They make the mistake of thinking they no longer have to tap into the flow of their muse. They believe they need not risk venturing into the raging current of life, where the rocks are slippery and the perilous precipices of towering waterfalls await the incautious. They become convinced they can inscribe whatever odoriferous rumble farts upward from their bowels, knowing their fans will bask in the glorious cloud of warm air as if it is the vaporized ambrosia of Olympus. In other words, writers lose touch with what got them there, then start believing that every piece of garbage they smear on paper with their own balled turds is going to win the Nobel Prize.

Sadly, this seems to be exactly what happens to Gregory David Roberts in his long-awaited sequel to Shantaram, The Mountain Shadow.

After it was first released in 2003, Shantaram became an enormous hit. Gregory David Roberts, who like many pop-culture icons either refers to himself in the third person, or snootily uses his middle name to create a regal-sounding title, quickly succumbed to rockstar-like success. Russell Crowe and Johnny Depp came sniffing around the gateway of his Mumbai slum for the film rights to his book. He gave private tours of the seedier parts of the Indian city of his residence to celebrities like Madonna. He seemed to forget about being a storyteller, getting wrapped up in his status as celebrity swami. He may have become lazy and self-indulgent, taking 13 years to write a sequel that, for the quality of its content, could have been dashed off in six months.

2003's Shantaram had a certain charm. For all the sappy, self-aggrandization in the original, in whose pages Roberts creates for himself a rather mystical aura of sanctimonious, fake humility, the novel was still highly readable. Therefore, when I opened my lunchbox to find the Mountain Shadow successor nestled between sandwich and yogurt, it was with a certain visceral thrill that I launched upon it for the next 37 soon-to-become tedious lunchtimes.

Alas, I am deeply disappointed. Instead of the fascinating, voyeuristic glimpse into the unseen underbelly of India that Shantaram offered, I am left with a belly-full of mushy, sappy aphorisms pathetically aspiring to wisdom but crashing and burning in flames of self-indulgent nonsense. Instead of my usual solid, delectable, lip-smacking sandwich, I have been consuming soggy, insipid oatmeal for the 37 lunchtimes. Nevertheless I persist so that you, dear reader, will not have to endure it.

Lunchtime Lit Year to Date Recap

Word Count
Date Started
Date FInished
Lunchtimes Consumed
The Last Temptation of Christ
Killing Patton
7/11/2016 (Slurpee Day)
The Winter of Our Discontent
The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy
Kafka on The Shore
Life and Fate
The Mountain Shadow

*Five other titles, with a total estimated word count of 1,620,400 and 213 lunchtimes consumed, have been reviewed under the guidelines of this series.

**Word counts are estimated by hand counting a statistically significant 23 pages, then extrapolating this average page count across the entire book.

***Yes I have been absent from Hub Pages for awhile. I am catching up on my Lunchtime Reviews. Slowly.

Lunchtime Lit Rules

The broken heart is a belly-up goldfish that you can't flush - Mel Carriere

Aphorism indigestion has become a real problem on the Lunchtime Lit circuit. Therefore, in order to alleviate chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, aphorisms must be absorbed in small doses through complex processes of mechanical and chemical digestion. It is for this reason that Lunchtime Lit readings are limited to this letter carrier's half hour lunch breaks. Unauthorized literary activity outside of this half hour window may result in acute attacks of abdominal distention that cause the reviewer to regurgitate or flatulate impressive-sounding but largely meaningless maxims.

A typical Mumbai slum
A typical Mumbai slum | Source

Truth is the warden of the prison of the soul.

-Gregory David Roberts, The Mountain Shadow

Bad book reviews are emetics for the soul. Lunchtime Lit reviews, however, are a philosophical electrolyte, replenishing vital spiritual fluids after a prolonged pout of self-induced literary vomiting.

-Mel Carriere

Night is truth wearing a purple dress, and people dance differently there.

Gregory David Roberts - Mountain Shadow

Mailboxes are bank vaults disguised as pissing posts for dogs, and identify thieves dance greedily there.

-Mel Carriere

Mountains Above Mumbai
Mountains Above Mumbai | Source

Antacid Anyone?

In Shantaram,we were introduced to Lin Baba's philosophical mentor, a sophisticated thug named Khaderbhai, leader of the powerful Mumbai underworld. The now departed Khaderbhai directed protagonist Lin Baba, aka Shantaram, into seeking enlightenment from a sage named Idriss, who dwells on a mountain. In Mountain Shadow our protagonist occasionally travels to this swami to achieve nirvanic bliss, after which he descends again to shake down Mumbai street vendors for protection money. It is Idriss who teaches our hero Lin to pen inspirational nuggets of love and compassion by night after a hard day of forging passports for dangerous international felons. It is Idriss who admonishes Lin to rescue people from burning buildings, then to slash up rival gang members in knife fights on the way home from canonization.

This particular reviewer scratches deep gouges in his scalp trying to understand how Roberts put this novel through 23 revisions, when it is really just narcissism disguised with gaudy lipstick. Were his editors begging for less story and more aphorism, or did the author feel compelled to soften brutal acts of extortion and other thuggery with extended passages of sweet sappiness? It is telling that in his last interview for The Mountain Shadow, Roberts advertises the "uncut" e-book version of his novel, containing the "complete" philosophical smackdown between Idriss and his rival sages of the mountain. What this suggests is that Robert's editors at Grove Press weren't willing to kill any more trees to add to an approximately 16 page digression of second hand, junior varsity wisdom, which is already approximately 16 pages too long. When I gave the smackdown segment a second look I was surprised it was only 16 pages. It actually seemed god-awful longer while I was slogging through the quicksand quagmire of wasted nouns, verbs, and other parts of speech.

In Robert's Shantaram there were likable and unlikable characters. Likable and equally unlikable characters are what make a good novel. In Shantaram, the slum-dwelling character Prabakar was a likable fellow, a wheeling and dealing working man trying to scrape out a living while maintaining his good humor and dedication to friends. When he dies it feels somewhat tragic. I can't say I wept, but at least Prabakar was unique, colorful, and worthy of sympathy.

For those of us readers who are not employed as street thugs, in The Mountain Shadow there really aren't any characters to like. Lin's best friend Abdullah, another violence-prone tough guy, might be likable to his co-conspirators in the criminal organization, but when he dies in Mountain Shadow I confess I suffer no pangs. In his last interview, Robert gives a long-winded dissertation, wrapped up in fancy turns of phrase as all his aphorisms are, describing a house of mirrors process where, by everything reflecting everything else, he tries to create depth for his characters. I see no depth in this book, especially in the characters. The thugs are all thugs, stamped out of the same thuggish cookie cutter. The heroines are all quick-witted, aphorism-armed philosophical wonder women. I can't remember the names of all the sketchy Mumbai drug-dealing street urchins, but they quickly blend into anonymity. The one character I like is the Russian Oleg, but again he is a thug, not worth worrying about, although in the end should have been given more space than the under-inspiring, nebulous lot that populates the near 900 pages.

Yes The Mountain Shadow is replete with evildoers, which usually makes for pulse-pounding, page-turning reading, except that the only reason we can label these blackguards as bad guys in the first place is because they belong to a rival gang. In reality, the villains are only marginally more detestable than the good-guy goons in Lin Baba's syndicate. An exception to the rule, a truly captivating bad girl that briefly teases us is the evil Madame Zhou, making an encore appearance from Shantaram. This she-devil and her entourage of acid-throwers offer fleeting false hope there may yet be a pulse in this ponderous tome before she too fizzles away into a gooey puddle of nothingness, as if caught in a vat of her author's literary acid.

Bollywood dance numbers carved in stone
Bollywood dance numbers carved in stone | Source

Shantaram In Infinitum?

Perhaps I have been ungenerous in this review. I don't set out to deliberately trash my Lunchtime Lit books. I only get a half-hour lunch, and I want to spend it reading something entertaining or enlightening. Until now, there was one other book that introduced heartburn to my lunchtime reading experience, by another author who was overwhelmed by the hype of his own blockbuster novel Shogun, and never wrote a worthy word afterward.

I wanted to like The Mountain Shadow, because in spite of all of its shallow sappiness, I enjoyed Shantaram. In Shantaram we had a desperate, wanted criminal on the run being forcefully immersed into an alien culture. It is riveting to read the exploits of an international fugitive who has the threat of re-capture constantly hanging over his head. If Lin Baba is still an international fugitive, however, The Mountain Shadow certainly does not remind us of it. He rides around the streets of Mumbai on his motorcycle, as openly and freely as his "cheetah of happiness," "...running free in a savanna of solace." Sometimes he even appears as an extra in Bollywood movies. If anything, what we take away here is that Interpol obviously does not attend Bollywood screenings.

Will the long awaited Shantaram movie ever be released, complete with a Bollywood masala dance number at the end, in which thugs and gangsters boogie alongside sages and swamis?

Gregory David Roberts plans to make LIn Baba the center of a "tetralogy" (meaning four) novels. At his current rate of composition, he should finish this about 2043. If still breathing - good Lord willing and the river don't rise, I will be 79, at which age I don't think I will be waiting for the completion of the saga with bated breath. Fact is, I think I will stop here at novel number two. Fact is, I don't care what happens anymore. I think we all know the outcome anyway - the semi-autobiographical Lin Baba eventually gets caught, serves his time, and goes on to write an international bestseller. The intervening colorless characters and eye-rolling aphorisms just aren't interesting enough to make me anxiously await the ending.


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    • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

      Mel Carriere 

      18 months ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Mr. Mills. If nothing else, this novel was a textbook example of literary masturbation.

    • profile image

      Pat Mills 

      19 months ago from East Chicago, Indiana

      Better luck with your next Lunchtime Lit read. I can say that, on film, directors don't always make epics that are absorbing. They're just long, just as the book you have described.

    • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

      Mel Carriere 

      19 months ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Davika. I'm delighted you stopped by to read.

    • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

      Mel Carriere 

      19 months ago from San Diego California

      So many books to read Bill, too little time. I appreciate you dropping in.

    • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

      Mel Carriere 

      19 months ago from San Diego California

      Thanks Ann. How could you tell I didn't like it?

    • profile image


      19 months ago

      I see your point here. You shared an informative hub and enlightened me too.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      19 months ago from Olympia, WA

      It's good to see you back, Mel! And thank you for the review. I really need to return to reading. I miss it.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      19 months ago from SW England

      So you didn't like it then?!

      Can't blame you; by the sound of it the first novel wouldn't have been my cup of tea either. Like you, I like to be entertained or informed when I read.

      Like John, I am glad you've sent out this warning!


    • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

      Mel Carriere 

      19 months ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Jodah. I do recommend the first installment, Shantaram, particularly to you because author Roberts is an ex Australian convict known as the Gentleman Bandit who excaped from an Australian prison. This sequel, however, is not worth the paper it is printed on. Thanks for reading my friend.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      19 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Thank you for enduring this novel so that the rest of us don't have to, Mel. As I have friends who live in Mumbai I may have been tempted to actually read this, but I admit I had not heard of Shantaram or Gregory David Roberts before, so I would have had to read that first.

      Like or hate the book, your Lunchtime Lit series is always an enjoyable read.


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