A Life Apart – Neel Mukherjee

Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow! That was my initial reaction to Neel Mukherjee’s ‘A Life Apart’ and is still the reaction that I am left with a week or two later. In fact this book left such an effect on me and took me on such a journey I had to have a short reading break afterwards and then leave writing about it until I could think on it more. Yes it is one of those books that will leave you feeling a little differently about life, does that sound too grand?

‘A Life Apart’ is a book of two stories and one with many, many themes but don’t let that daunt you before you have read on. The book is in part the story of Ritwik a man who survives a childhood living on the breadline in Kalighat, India. His childhood is not a happy one filled with horrendous abuse from his mother whose funeral opens the book. After his mother’s death Ritwik moves to Oxford in the early nineties to study and find himself. In doing so he finds himself and in doing so starts thinking over the past and finding who he really is as he explores his sexuality and enters a dark underbelly of cottaging (quite graphic), drugs and alcohol leading into the world of illegal immigrants. There is a saviour in all this who is an elderly woman, Anne Cameron, and the relationship between her and Ritwik is one so moving and touching I can’t do it justice in words, it took the book to another level.

Alternating between Ritwik’s tale is also the story of Maud Gilby. Maud is a middle aged woman who moves to the British ruled Bengal of the 1900’s and aims to liberate Indian women at the time and so becomes a teacher of English to rich Indian men’s wives. Initially you think ‘how on earth can these two tales have anything to do with each other?’ Well this is where I felt Mukherjee showed he was even more accomplished as the reader has to do some work to link the two, I shall say no more other than the result is a wonderful one.

It is hard to believe that this is a debut novel as to read it feels so accomplished. Unlike other books that could have made you feel almost too much is going on everything is measured and paced, themes are explored but not overly so. No puddings are overegged by Mr Mukherjee here where some authors might have gone into melodrama or overkill. The prose is both lush and stark in parts and has a wonderful flow to it. The only slight tiny niggle I had was that Maud Gilby’s tale is all in bold which played a bit with my eyes, as I said a small niggle though.

This book has also won India’s prestigious Vodaphone Crossword Book Award under its original title ‘Past Continuous’ and I believe, though I could be wrong, it beat Salman Rushdie. It’s a new award to me and one whose winners I will now definitely be looking to read. This win came as a surprise to some for the way it graphically portrays a hidden homosexual life in the early nineties but Mukherjee didn’t write this book to shock its part of making this particular story ring true, it is also by no means the be all and end all of the novel itself. I think actually the tale of child abuse is the one most people will find the hardest part of the book to read.

Not only, as I mentioned above, is it a book that leaves you feeling a little differently about life, not on a grand scale but in subtle ways and haunts you after you finish the last sentence. I have absolutely everything crossed that this book ends on the Man Booker Longlist as it truly deserves to win so I am hoping its eligible and the publishers put it forward. A must read, a full ten out of ten from me, a book I would whole heartedly recommend to all of you. In fact I am tempted to say that you have to get this book right now and I don’t say too often.


Filed under Books of 2010, Constable & Robinson Publishing, Neel Mukherjee, Review

38 responses to “A Life Apart – Neel Mukherjee

  1. I have it waiting in the queue, so it’s great to read such a positive report. Must get to it soon!

  2. First of all, I LOVE the analogy of an overegged pudding! I’m tickled with it. And honestly, how can I walk away from such an amazing review? It totally rocks my world when I read something that actually shifts the way you live your life and makes you THINK. The book is being written down on my over-extended, over-taxed List. I must read it.

    • Sandy you need to send me your address by email you won the signed copy of Solar!

      This book has made me think a lot and in so many ways it had so much that was wonderful (and so much that was a little traumatic) in it.

  3. I got a copy of this last week, so am really pleased to see that you loved it. I’ll try to get to it in the next month. i hope I enjoy it as much as you did.

  4. I love the review you have done of this book. It definitely will go on my list. I seldom ever buy new for the simple reason that what I want is not available but today I got The Historian which I had been eyeing for sometime so maybe there is hope and this book will also eventually appear, Thanks once again for this review.

    • Hopefully this book is soon available near you as it is marvellous. It’s annoying sometimes when you read a review of a book that isnt out in your home land just quite yet!

  5. This sounds amazing. I hadn’t heard of it before but I’ve added it to my TBR list and look forward to reading it!

    • It’s a marvellous book as long as the reader wants to put in some work too (which I know all the readers of this blog would naturally) as the two strands do take some work but its definitley worth it.

  6. I love it hwen that happens with a book – sounds really good and so I shall keep my eyes peeled for it.

    • I am sure this won’t happen to every reader quite to the extent it did with me as I do think there is that thing of the time you read a book. For me everything was alligned with this book, its marvellous, well I think so. I always feel sad for the next book you read after a book like this though.

  7. I’ve heard of Mukherjee but hadn’t come across any reviews. But it’s really wonderful when you come across a book that touches you so deeply. I’m definitely keeping my eyes peeled for this one.

  8. Susan in TX

    I can’t read it – I just can’t read child abuse stuff because it breaks my mother heart too much (yes, I’m a lightweight), but I’m going to remember “No puddings were overegged” for a long time. 🙂 Surely, this is not a cliche on the Examiner’s list!
    Thanks for the review!

    • Thats understandable. Its a very ‘real’ portrayal. I didnt find it easy to read but then I don’t really think that reading should always be an easy experience even if it is a relaxing pass time.

      A cliche on the examiners list? Whats the examiners list?

  9. I am glad you liked it. Great review!

  10. Totally totally my kind of book. Thanks for the lovely review. I’m adding it to my TBR list! 🙂

    • I do hope that when you get to it your really enjoy it Kals. Glad that you liked the review am looking forward to many more people reading this over the forthcoming months, I hope people do.

  11. Ti

    Your five-wow beginning to this post caught my eye. This sounds like a really, meaty read and it’s one that I haven’t heard of before. That’s a plus.

  12. I’d heard of the book but didn’t pay any attention to it. Soo many books , soo little time. But your five wows. And for a new author. I’ll put it on my list.

  13. Any review that starts “Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow!” gets my attention! Even more exciting when it’s a book I haven’t heard of.

  14. mee

    When I read your review I was sure I came across this book somewhere before. Apparently it’s robaroundbooks and he just wrote his review a couple of days ago. What a coincidence! To share some bookish love: http://robaroundbooks.com/2010/03/afterthoughts-a-life-apart-by-neel-mukherjee/

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  16. Great review! I haven’t heard of this book but it sounds like one I would really enjoy. I am participating in the South Asian Authors Challenge and this would be perfect for it. I am adding it to my TBR.

    • This would indeed be rather good to add to your collection. Let me know how you get one with it, sorry for the tardy replies I have been missing email notifications of peoples comments.

  17. Pingback: Oh I should get that, or Additions to my Wishlist #1 « Kinna Reads

  18. Sounds like one that I should get to reading – I like reading enthusiastic reviews. 🙂

  19. Rita Stephens

    Can anyone tell me if this book is available in the states? If so where can I purchase it, please?

  20. Pingback: A Life Apart – Neel Mukherjee – Farm Lane Books Blog

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