Category Archives: Neel Mukherjee

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.

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

Simon’s Bookish Bits #9

On these weekly bookish bits I am beginning to sound like a stuck record, once again last week was a busy one so I am once again spending this morning catching up on commenting back and other people’s blogs. However now that the latest issue of the magazine I write for is done I have a week off! Hoorah, a week for some unadulterated reading pleasure and so am mulling over my reading plans. So I think today I will in the main hand over to you and see if what you are reading or have been reading can inspire me.

The book I am just about to crack open and have been itching to get into for well over a week is ‘A Life Apart’ by Neel Mukherjee. It has been in the house since just after Christmas but I like to put my thoughts up after something’s published date rather than before so you can all get hold of it. For the last week I have been sneaking glimpses at it and getting very exciting about reading it, does anyone else have moments like this or is it just me? I have heard marvellous things about ‘A Life Apart’ (Mariella Frostrup was raving about it on Open Book – and I like her), has anyone else read this? I seem to have gained two copies so maybe a giveaway is in the pipeline?

It is nice to be foot loose and fancy free in terms of reading, even if I do have two titles lined up for reading in the non too distant future. The latest Riverside Readers choice of ‘July’s People’ by Nadine Gordimer, which I got from the library the other day – the first book group choice I have managed to actually, is going to be one I read in preparation for meeting on the 4th. Then of course we have ‘Vanessa and Virginia’ by Susan Sellers for Kirsty at Other Stories hosting of the Not The TV Book Group choice in two weeks. I am so nervous about mine tomorrow I don’t even want to speak of it, in fact am trying not to think of it.

Apart from ‘A Life Apart’ the only other book I really am itching to read arrived in rather mysterious wrapping this week…

It is ‘Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand’ by Helen Simonson and the note inside side ‘I have sent you a book you must sit down with a nice cup of tea and some biscuits’ which the lovely Penelope at Bloomsbury had also thrown in (along with some lovely greeting cards), she must be a little psychic as I adore shortbread! I am now very excited about what I think will be a reading experience with all these goodies. I also have two copies of this so I think some nice giveaways are definitely lined up!

So what are you all reading? What’s been your favourite book of late? What book are you really, really excited about right now? What are your weekend reading plans? Any other bookish bits of business you have to divulge?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Neel Mukherjee

Simon’s Bookish Bits #4

Hello, hope you are all well? I sadly have the lurgy so this is a bit of a late bookish bits from my bed where I can have a ramble on about lots of different bookish things that have been on my mind or caught my eye this week. Things coming up are Wallander, book winners, podcasts and vlogs and some more sympathy supplies from publishers. Plus possibly a few other bits and pieces.

First up, and I am probably really behind with this subject, is Wallander. I am sure most of you have heard about this series by Henning Mankell and have also probably read most of them. I am officially late to this Swedish crime series; however as I have a spectacular lurgy this week I have been watching more catch up TV than I have been reading books. (I have devoured some more short stories and a small book plus Jasper Fforde – ok I have been reading less than normal.) One series I came across was the BBC’s version of Wallander played by Kenneth Branagh (pictured below) which you can see on iPlayer.

Wallander... cleary a man who doesn't get hayfever!

Wallander, cleary a man who doesnt get hayfever!

It is absolutely superb, I only watched The Man Who Smiled as I have Faceless Killers on the TBR and am now about to get cracking on reading it before I watch it. I am sure many of you have read it and will be able to tell me where to go after Faceless Killers which I am sure I will be discussing next week in more detail, so don’t give any plots away please.

So next up Podcasts and Vlogs. I am new to Vlog’s and know of only one blogger who does them and its one of my other favourite posts each week which is Eva of A Striped Armchair and her weekly library loot. I have to add I wish my local library was as wonderful as hers as the titles she gets are just marvellous. You must have a watch of her Vlog’s (the latest can be found here) as they are utterly charming and in watching them you get to know Eva even better. I couldn’t do a Vlog I have to say the camera does not flatter me. I would love to make podcasts though I have no idea how do any of you? Do any of you have any Podcast recommendations as I have been bereft since Radio 5 stopped doing there’s, even if I still have Mariella on a Sunday and World Book Club.

Speaking of Podcasts I have found a wonderful new Podcast this week thanks to Mee who had written about it in one of her past blog posts. It is called Books on the Nightstand and is by Michael Kindness and Ann Kingman who work for Random ‘but don’t only talk about our publishers books’. Its marvellous and its like you are overhearing a conversation of two friends over a coffee nattering away about books they have read and loved. You can (and should) download them here and read their blog they are just brilliant from the latest books to ‘challenges on blogs’ they discuss it all. Marvellous!

Now finally an update on the BBB, so far so good but then I have been in bed most of the week. One thing thats been a delight while I have been feeling vile is that I have had rather an influx of books as some lovely publishers have sent me some sympathy parcels. I have had to take a picture on the stairs as there has been rather a wonderful deluge of books here. I did try and put them in publisher order but with all the different sizes it didn’t work. So before I list them all too you a big thanks to Canongate, Orion, Random House, Headline, Penguin, Faber, OUP, Constable and Robinson and Bloomsbury for these. Here they are;

  • The Blasphemer – Nigel Farndale
  • City Boy – Edmund White
  • The Unnamed – Joshua Ferris
  • The Help – Kathryn Stockett
  • Lost – Gregory Maguire
  • Dog Boy – Eva Hornung
  • A Life Apart – Neel Mukherjee
  • Wedlock: How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband Met His Match – Wendy Moore
  • God’s Own Country – Ross Raisin
  • Shadow – Karin Alvtegen
  • A Lion Among Men – Gregory Maguire
  • Direct Red – Gabriel Weston
  • Depths – Henning Mankell
  • The Chalk Circle Man – Fred Vargas
  • Cutting For Stone  – Abraham Verghese
  • The Complete Short Stories – Oscar Wilde
  • Consolation – James Wilson
  • The Rapture – Liz Jensen
  • A Kid For Two Farthings – Wolf Mankowitz
  • Miss Hargreaves – Frank Baker
  • Love’s Shadow – Ada Leverson
  • Mrs Tim of the Regiment – D.E. Stevenson
  • Timoleon Vieta Come Home – Dan Rhodes
  • Anthropology – Dan Rhodes
  • Little Clapping Hands – Dan Rhodes

As ever if you have read any of the books or the authors let me know your thoughts. Ooh I nearly forgot… The Istanbul competition winner is… Michelle aka Su(shu) do email me your address! If you haven’t won don’t be disheartened as I have some more giveaways related to some of the above titles coming up (I like you all to benefit too) and some I haven’t mentioned! So keep your eyes peeled.

So that’s all from my sneezy wheezy sick bed for today. Let me know your thoughts on Wallander, the latest arrivals at Savidge Towers and details of any podcasts and vlog’s I am missing out on. Oh and if you know how to make podcasts do let me know! Over to you all, I look forward to your comments to cheer me up with this horrid lurgy.

Oh and another quick question as you guys are always helpful with things like this and I can’t work out which is better. Should I title these posts like this “Simon’s Bookish Bits: Wallander, Podcasts, Vlogs and Incoming” or simply “Simon’s Bookish Bits #5”? That would be as helpful as answers to all the above!

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Filed under Dan Rhodes, Edmund White, Gregory Maguire, Henning Mankell, Joshua Ferris, Kathryn Stockett, Neel Mukherjee, Nigel Farndale, Oscar Wilde, Simon's Bookish Bits, Wolf Mankowitz