Rudyard Kippling

Rudyard Kipling’s Kim: a zam-zammer wonder-house of wordplay

Often regarded as an early YA novel, Kim appears to be a simple coming-of age story, until you begin to notice the unobtrusive brilliance of the craftsmanship

More from the Guardian reading group

The Zamzama gun and Lahore museum, or “House of Wonders”, both of which feature in Kim.
The Zamzama gun and Lahore museum, or “House of Wonders”, both of which feature in Kim. Photograph: John Mcconnico/AP

Many of the pleasures of Kim are straightforward, direct and easily absorbed – much like Rudyard Kipling’s prose. Indeed, his writing is probably chief among those joys. It’s a book where moving through the sentences is its own reward. Few novels have such beguiling rhythm, imagery and vocabulary.

The very words are fun to read, fun to say out loud: “Wonder-House”, “Zam-Zammah”, “Kimball O’Hara”, “Sind, Punjab and Delhi railway” – and those are just from the first page. But it’s what Kipling does with them that really counts, in prose so perfect you barely notice how clever it is when you first read through. It’s only when you stop to analyse that you notice how well everything is constructed:

As he drummed his heels against Zam-Zammah he turned now and again from his king-of-the-castle game with little Chota Lal and Abdullah the sweetmeat seller’s on to make a rude remark to a native policeman on guard over rows of shoes at the museum door.”

 Guardian 20 January 2016

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