Moth Smoke by Mohsin Hamid

by Lily Wren

Moth Smoke by Mohsin Hamid
Categories: Contemporary Literature, Pakistan, drug addiction.

Moth Smoke is the debut novel by Mohsin Hamid and tells of the descent of Daru Shezad as he loses his job, becomes more dependent on drugs and turns to crime. The story is set in 1990’s Lahore in Pakistan with most of the narration coming from Daru as we witness his disintegration. Daru’s narration is interspersed with stories from his former college tutor, his best friend and his best friend’s wife whom Daru is in love with.

Hamid tells this story within the context of a class system where you are nobody unless you have money, air conditioning and a servant. Hamid is a great writer. The book flows well and is an easy read. However, and this is no doubt intentional, I found the main characters to be unsympathetic, self-absorbed, contemptable and cruel. I found Daru to be the most contemptable of all which, for me, can bring about difficulties seeing as though he is the main character. His opinion and treatment of Manucci, his ‘servant’, especially demonstrates his character. Daru doesn’t pay Manucci and expects him to continue working for him as he treats him like crap.

I let go and he runs into the kitchen. I know I haven’t paid him in a long time. But he isn’t going hungry: he eats food from my kitchen and sleeps under my roof. Sometimes servants want their pay so they can leave, and if that’s his plan I won’t make it easy for him. Not that he has anywhere else to go. p.217

The book is said, by many reviewers, to provide a commentary on 1990s Pakistan and the class system that pervades. It certainly portrays an awful picture of the upper-middle classes and can be quite graphic in this portrayal and Hamid succeeds in getting this across. However, whilst I did enjoy Hamid’s writing and will be seeking out more of his work, I do think the book tries to pack too much in and, as a consequence, spreads itself thinly. It didn’t really hit the spot for me and it wasn’t until I got to the last third of the book that I felt it had found its place. Yes, it flows along well, but in some parts it does lumber and at times I couldn’t decide what it was meant to be. Is it a commentary on drug abuse? Pakistan and politics? The feudal system? A love triangle? I think it is trying to be all of these things but in doing so I think it loses an opportunity. However, my grumbles aside, it is a good book and one to recommend to those interested in this genre.