The Temple-goers – Aatish Taseer

The Temple-goers has an impressive blurb. It is described as being as “seductive and unsettling” as The Reluctant Fundamentalist and like an Indian version of Netherland. The author was heralded as the ‘Indian Brett Easton Ellis’ by The Bookseller and as ‘a writer to watch’ by V.S. Naipaul. I’m a big fan of Indian novels and so was excited about reading it.

Unfortunately I don’t think The Temple-goers lived up to the hype, but I wonder if that is because I didn’t fully understand/appreciate the complexity of the novel.

The book is set in modern day India and focuses on a young man who has returned from the West to rewrite his novel in cosmopolitan Delhi. The central character, Aatish, is named after the author and we follow him as he struggles to adapt to the fast changing city.

Aatish strikes up a friendship with a gym trainer and together they enjoy getting drunk and having sex, always ensuring they visit the temple afterwards to atone. The balance between ancient tradition and the modern way of life is an interesting concept for a novel, but I failed to connect with any of the characters and so I found myself not caring what they got up to.

Throughout the book we hear about Aatish’s novel writing, which is often criticised:

Sanyogita didn’t like the writer. She felt he wasn’t kind; that was her word. She had begun many books of his. I think she read them for my sake rather than out of any real interest; and later I felt she finished them for the same reason. One lay by her bedside now.

‘I can’t!’ she said, standing in front of a dressing-table mirror, her head cocked to one side as she put in an earring, ‘I just can’t. I’ve tried, but they’re so dry. And he’s not kind to his subjects.’

All the criticisms reflected my thoughts on The Temple-goers, so I wonder if this book is a satire on novel writing.  I can’t understand why someone would deliberately create a dry novel with characters that you can’t connect to, but that does appear to be the case here. The way the author has named the character after himself also seems to suggest this.

There were some interesting sections on life in modern day India and the book had an easy-to-read, fast pace, but I found most of the book quite dull.

Recommended to people who enjoy experimental writing – perhaps one of you will be able to explain this book to me at some point!


Lanterns on Their Horns – Radhika Jha

Lanterns On Their Horns is a gentle story about life in rural India. Ramu and Laxmi live in a village which has turned it’s back on modern society, but the couple are ostracised from village life because of the shame of Laxmi’s father’s suicide. They struggle to get by until one day their lives are changed by the discovery of a stray cow in the forest.

Manoj and Pratima live a very different life. Manoj works on a new project to artificially inseminate Indian cattle with European sperm, with the aim of increasing milk yield. Rural farmers do not understand the concept of cows becoming pregnant without a bull being present, and so are deeply mistrusting of him. The book highlights the conflict between modernisation and traditional rural life.

Lanterns On Their Horns isn’t like your typical Western novel, it has a distinctive Indian feel and some unique attributes. Whole sections are written from the perspective of a cow. It sounds really weird, but it actually works:

Being alone was new. From the time she was born, creatures similar to her had surrounded her. Now a nameless dread loosened her bowels. It was of a place to which cows went alone. It made her want to run, but she didn’t know where.

I loved being inside a cow’s mind and as with the amazing mouse scene in The End of Mr. Y I now have a renewed empathy for these animals. The pace of the book is quite slow, but I loved learning about Indian culture and traditions so much that I didn’t mind. This book gets deep into Indian life without the depressing violence of A Fine Balance, but it feels much more realistic than Q and A . I think it is a great average of the two.

If you like to be immersed in different cultures or have always wanted to know more about cows then this book is for you.



Lanterns on Their Horns was released in the UK today. It isn’t available in the US at the moment, but you can buy it with free international delivery from The Book Depository.

About the author

Radhika Jha is a best selling author in India. Her debut novel Smell, won the French Prix Guerlain and has been translated into sixteen different languages. This is her second novel.

What is your favourite book with an Indian setting?

Have you read any great books which allow you to get inside the mind of an animal?

2008 Booker Prize Historical Fiction

Sea of Poppies – Amitav Ghosh

Short Listed for the Booker Prize 2008

I had mixed feelings about this book. I loved the first section, set in an Indian poppy plantation. The descriptions of life as a poppy farmer fascinated me and the atmosphere was set perfectly. I would have loved the whole book to be about the lives of these rural Indians. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before the atmosphere of the book was changed by the arrival of the white traders. These arrogant men crashed through the gentle prose and ruined everything for me. I found their dialogue hard to understand, and when the story moved on board the trading ship bound for Mauritius I started to lose interest in the book. Life on board ship would be of interest to those who are studying it, but most of the seafaring terms went over my head.

As the book progressed, the plot slowed, and the writing became weighed down in too much detail. The Sea of Poppies is the first book in a trilogy, and I have heard that it is just setting the scene for the next book. If this is the case then I felt it spent too long doing this. The fact it is a trilogy also meant that the ending was a bit flat – left open to allow for the sequel. I don’t think I’ll be reading the next one unless a trusted source informs me that it is a lot better than this one.

Recommended to anyone with a thirst for knowledge about life on a trading ship in the 19th century, but I’m afraid it wasn’t for me.



Have you read Sea of Poppies?

Did you enjoy it? Are you planning to read the rest of the trilogy?

Have you read The Glass Palace or The Hungry Tide? Are they better than Sea of Poppies?

2008 2009 Thriller

Six Suspects – Vikas Swarup

I loved Q&A (the book the film Slumdog Millionaire is based on) and so was excited to find Vikas Swarup’s latest book in the library. Unfortunately Six Suspects isn’t quite as good as Q&A.

The title refers to the six people who are all discovered carrying a gun at a party in which Vicky Rai, the son of a high-profile Indian Minister, is shot. Through a series of short stories we see into the lives of these people, and their motives for killing Vicky Rai are revealed.

Some sections were really good, especially the story of the mobile phone thief who found a briefcase full of money, but this seemed too similar to the central character in Q&A, who also suddenly comes into a lot of money. It felt like the best sections from Q&A had been condensed and then repeated here.

There were many sections of the book which seemed unlikely, and it didn’t have to charm be able to pull it off. One of the characters gets kidnapped and this section in particular seemed very unrealistic. The book touches on some very difficult subjects, including suicide bombings and poverty, but I felt these were rushed over and so I failed to get an insight into the minds of these people.  The fact that there were six central characters also meant that I didn’t really bond with them that well, as by the time I was getting to know them they were replaced with the next suspect. The sights and sounds of India were also not as present in this book as they should have been.

It is a light, easy read, and it’s 560 pages fly by, but I was disappointed by the ending, as although it is quite clever, it isn’t possible to work out who the murderer is, and that is what I love most about thrillers.

Overall, it was OK, but I recommend you read Q&A instead.


Did you enjoy reading Q&A?

I haven’t seen the film Q&A yet? Which did you prefer – the book or the film?

2000 - 2007 Booker Prize

Fasting, Feasting – Anita Desai

Fasting, Feasting was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1999.

The book begins in India, telling the story of Uma, the eldest daughter of a close-knit family. Uma struggles to find a suitable husband, and becomes trapped at home, effectively a slave to her oppressive parents. Although set in a different continent, it reminded me of Purple Hibiscus. The character development was excellent, and all the sights and sounds of an Indian village came to life.

The second part of the book follows Uma’s brother, Arun, as he crosses the world to begin life with a middle-class family in America. Arun observes many of problems associated with the developed world, including materialism and eating disorders. I found this section of the book disappointing in comparison to the parts set in India. The characters failed to come to life, and I began to lose interest as this section progressed.

Many important issues were raised in this book, including arranged marriage and the effective imprisonment of women in a household. Comparisons between lives in the two different cultures were made, but no real conclusions were ever drawn.

Overall, the writing was simple, but beautiful. The book began well, but failed to develop to it’s full potential. It was OK, but nothing special.


Q & A – Vikas Swarup

Books Before Blogging Review

This week there has been lots of publicity for the release of the film Slumdog Millionaire here in the UK. The book is based on the novel Q & A by Vikas Swarup, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to let you know that it is well worth reading.

I picked this book up in a charity book shop about a year ago. I started reading the first page, to see if it would be my sort of thing, and it gripped me so much that I barely put it down until I’d finished it.

The story is based around eighteen-year-old Ram Mohammad Thomas, who is arrested after winning the Indian version of ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionare’. The show’s producers are convinced that a boy from the slums could not have answered all twelve questions correctly without cheating in some way. Each chapter in the book explains the extraordinary reasons why Ram knew the answers to a diverse range of questions.

Many of the situations described were very unbelievable, and seemed to have been constructed around a fact that seemed to have been picked at random, rather than writing a realistic plot around more general questions. This didn’t really matter though, as the ending makes up for it!

It is a real page turner, with a great central character. Ram’s view of the world is touching and funny:

We especially like watching the films on Sunday.These films are about a fantasy world. A world in which kids have mothers and fathers, and birthdays. A world in which they live in huge houses, drive in huge cars and get huge presents. We saw this fantasy world, but we never got carried away by it.

It’s a nice, easy read, filled with the sights and sounds of India.


Also reviewed by Just Add Books