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Raymond Chandler could get away with such things because he predated Germaine Greer; Roberts can't because he's writing after both of them, and should know these ideas are sexist essentialism, the expression of them hackneyed to boot.

As for a sentence such as "Women have a psychic witchy spooky talking-to-the-dead way of knowing everything you think" It places itself beyond criticism. The problems with the novel are more pervasive than gender, however. There's an equal opportunity shallowness to Roberts' characterisation. You'd expect the book's many bizarre cameos to be two-dimensional, but even the narrative voice fails to achieve complexity and nuance. In fact, Lin is a total pain. He can't resist a brittle compulsion to impart gnomic "life lessons" in trite aphorisms, exactly like the kind of cult leader he affects to despise :"We are the art, that sees us as art"; "Fate waits on the riverbank of Story"; "Hello can lie, sometimes, but goodbye always tells the truth"; "Greed is human Kryptonite"; "Everyone has one eye that's softer and sadder, and one that's hard and bright".

You can barely finish a chapter without encountering guff such as, "What we do in life lives on inside us, long after ambition and fear lie frosted and opaqued on forgotten shores. What we do in life, more than what we think or say, is what we are.

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Axiomatic pronouncements this bald, didactic and sentimental can't possibly approximate the contradictory power of artistic truth, of course, partly because such sloganeering and cod philosophy are routinely used to sell us stuff. They have more in common with Oprah than Proust, and most readers with a shred of intellect or self-respect, no matter how questing, will cringe at the extent to which large chunks of The Mountain Shadow resemble the snake oil of the self-help industry. Roberts' flaws as a writer have grown like choking vines in this sequel, and that's a huge disappointment.

Fans of Shantaram may buy and read it anyway, though to the extent they find a page-turner, they'll likely be turning with the last page firmly in mind.

THE MOUNTAIN SHADOW book review

The Mountain Shadow review: A sequel that falls far short of its predecessor. The Sydney Morning Herald. Taschereau Brossard J4Z 1A7.


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