Lahiri's narrator, a woman questioning her place in the world, wavers between stasis and movement, between the need to belong and the refusal to form lasting ties. The city she calls home acts as a companion and interlocutor: traversing the streets around her house, and in parks, piazzas, museums, stores, and coffee bars, she feels less alone.
Whereabouts is a beautiful novel by Jhumpa Lahiri, but it wasn’t written by the same Jhumpa Lahiri. This is a book by a different writer, a different woman. And it displays, in place of all that she has given up, an incredible power ... a vivid portrait of a middle-aged, single woman who sometimes dreads being by herself...and at other times dreads the company of others ... ordinary circumstances are described as extraordinary events. One stunning passage chronicles an errand to a favorite stationery store, where the narrator stocks up on supplies ... she wields her storytelling gifts in astonishing ways. By sidestepping a traditional plot, Lahiri is free to explore everyday rituals through fragments that emphasize voice over action ... These dueling contradictions have always been Lahiri’s themes, but never before have they been expressed with such disquieting intimacy ... Lahiri is a fearless writer. She renders the details of her characters’ lives with dazzling precision, illuminating not only their hearts and minds, but their souls as well. It takes a kind of conjuring to write about people the way Lahiri does—deliberate yet emotional, unguarded yet mysterious, haunted by the burdens of life yet rarely without a secret hope for the future ... in Italian, she doesn’t deny her readers anything. She gives us even more of herself.
The effect is impressionistic, the story, such as it is, unfolding in fragments, a collection of vignettes and condensed meditations ... The dailiness of life is emphasized, and the intimate voice—a diarist’s voice—feels more like that of someone talking to herself than to you. This is not the kind of book that is particularly concerned with making the reader feel welcomed ... a disquieting pattern emerges: in almost every ordinary situation there is something to bring the narrator down ... there is little room for lightness or playfulness in the narrator’s accounts ... None of the novel’s many brief, subjective meditations leads to a more developed or complex exploration of any broader aspect of the human condition. About whatever writing or research she might be doing now, or may have done in the past, or plans to do during her fellowship, we learn nothing ... lingering questions...made the novel’s denouement feel not quite real to me ... I found the unsentimental, even ruthless, and at times excruciating account of chronic depressive disorder in Whereabouts utterly convincing. The book will strike a chord with anyone who has ever struggled with similar emotional pain ... But for all the gloom rising from these pages, there is more than a whiff of the romantic as well ... though we all know how dangerous it is to romanticize depression in real life, in a lyrical novel such as this one it can be very seductive ... The bare-bones style, not to mention the replacement with European characters of the Indians and Indian-Americans whose stories readers found so engaging in Lahiri’s previous fiction, won’t please everyone, of course ... I admire her stubborn insistence on the path she has chosen, which takes courage—a virtue perhaps especially bracing to see at a time when most other writers I know are feeling uncertain and cowed.
This is a very internalized novel, where nothing really occurs. We learn about our unnamed protagonist's past (her father died when she was a teen) and her present (she can't sleep well unless she hears the city traffic), and how then and now intersect ... In this beautiful novel, which might not appeal to fans of plot-driven narratives, the reader becomes immersed in the head of its subject ... Without artifice, Lahiri's elegant phrases throughout the book reveal as much about her character as they do about the author's understanding of her environment and the people who inhabit it ... this reviewer's sole regret is that he wishes Whereabouts was longer so he could linger a bit more with Lahiri's meditative and lyrical prose.