Neel Mukherjee’s second novel, The Lives of Others, was a great family saga short-listed for The Man Booker Prize. A Life Apart is actually his debut novel, but it was not published in this country until after The Lives of Others. One can see signs of the excellent writer Mukherjee will become here.
Ritwik is a gay orphan raised by a brutal mother in Calcutta. He attends college in England on a scholarship and decides to stay on after graduation even though his student visa has run out and he doesn’t have a green card. He lives rent free, taking care of an elderly woman and makes his spending money doing odd menial jobs and prostituting. In his spare time, Ritwik is writing a novel about an English woman living in India in the early 1900’s.
The story within a story is more a diversion than a parallel experience. One is waiting for both stories to come together and they never do. There are sections in A Life Apart that are great, with vivid, graphic, vibrant prose; however, the plot sometimes meanders which left me frustrated. Fortunately the author’s second novel has neither of these problems.