These Foolish Things

A review of the book by Deborah Moggach.

These Foolish Things was filmed in 2012 as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (reviewed here), a title subsequently adopted by later editions of the book.

These Foolish Things is a story about retirement to an old folks home or, as it is described in the book, a private hotel. It’s just that this is not the usual, slightly sterile if comfortable retirement home in England. Oh no, this is in India, to be more precise in Bangalore where we find a disparate group of ex-pat. Brits gathering in the Dunroamin private hotel. They each have their own reasons for being there and together, they learn to live in a different country with its alien culture. This book though is not just about learning to live in another country, it is about learning to live.

Amongst the residents there’s Norman, who likes to think of himself as cock-of-the-walk with the ladies. Evelyn, genteel but on restricted means and Muriel, searching for her son, to name three of the residents.

I’ve saw the film shortly after its release and I read the book a good deal later. When the Daily Telegraph reviewed These Foolish Things. the paper said that it “is classic Moggach: funny, touching and so full of colours and visual details that you feel, after finishing it, as if you’ve already seen the movie”. I can’t help wondering how my reviews might have differed if I’d done it the other way around.

Both the film and the book were excellent and were enjoyable to watch and read, respectively, but other than that there were some big, big differences in the story lines, albeit that the basic theme remained the same. I can’t help wondering what Deborah Moggach first thought of the film and whether, if a few names had been changed, she would still have recognised some of her characters and their back stories, that took them to the retirement hotel in India.

After reading the book, it is easy to see why an ensemble cast was perfect for the movie. The story (book) begins in England with each of the characters going about their business, leading their separate lives. It is only once they arrive at the Dunroamin private hotel, in Bangalore, that their lives and stories begin to intertwine.

Whilst the majority of Deborah’s characters are believable, I found Norman to be a slightly cliched, dirty old man. His portrayal in the film, by Ronald Pickup, came across more sympathetically as a sad, lonely man trying too hard to compensate.

Moggach is a descriptive writer who manages to give a sense of the location and of the atmosphere in Dunroamin. Whilst the ex-pat’s never quite seem to understand the culture they have come to live in, they become accustomed and in time come to terms with it. In doing so, the challenges they face bring them together with a common bond, first into comrades and friends and then slowly becoming a family. And it’s not just the residents whose lives are changed at Dunroamin, so to are the lives of the owners and staff, in ways they would never have expected.

As someone who has never visited India, I found Deborah’s descriptions of the life and conditions there seemed to echo my impressions of it from other media. She paints a land of colour and contrasts without over romanticising it. From the street beggars to the new office blocks and businessmen in sharp suits to ragged street urchins, desperate for a few rupees. And then of course there is the faded glory of the Raj.

This was a book I found easy to pick up, put down and pick up again and, as easy as it was to put down it would have been hard not to want to finish it. I read the book after seeing the film. If you have not already watched The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, I would recommend that you read the book first.

“Evelyn’s New Age daughter will discover that a good shag beats hugging 
a guru any day.”— Helen Falconer, book reviewer for The Guardian


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