Matthew Richardson

Almost great

Following our recent piece on the critical response to Aravind Adiga’s Last Man In Tower, here is the Book Blog’s review by Matthew Richardson.

Aravind Adiga’s new novel, Last Man in Tower, is ostensibly a book about Mumbai. It feeds from the sprawl and bustle of that maturing city, meditating on the riches of commercial development but, more compellingly, articulating its human cost.
 
The novel concentrates on the occupants of a ramshackle complex, Tower A of the Vishram Co-operative Housing Society. As part of a swathe of redevelopment, a goonish property tycoon, Dharmen Shah, offers the occupants a heady sum to vacate and allow him to mothball the place. He dreams in rhapsodic terms of transforming Mumbai into a new Shanghai.
 
Soon, of course, the monetary olive branch tempts almost all to agree to the proposal. Only one holds out. A mulish old science teacher, nicknamed Masterji, digs in his heels and rebuffs any attempt to forfeit his property. The central tension of the novel lies between the oily fatcat and the principled little man.
 
The whole thing has a faintly Dickensian ring to it (a near ubiquitous comparison: see Alex Clark, Ceri Radford and Peter Carty Indeed, Adiga slurps thirstily from the Victorian-realist rulebook. Mumbai is framed within the sort of sweeping, bulldoggish prose shunned by most contemporary British writers. Every microbe of the ‘acrid industrial stench’ is vividly evoked, as is the crush of people (we learn, for instance, that Masterji’s daughter was killed after being hustled out of a train carriage and left for dead on the tracks).
 
Yet the Dickens comparison is clumsy in some ways.







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