Review: The Lives of Others – Neel Mukherjee.

The aging patriarch and matriarch of the Ghosh family preside over their large household, made up of their five adult children and their respective children, unaware that beneath the barely ruffled surface of their lives the sands are shifting. Each set of family members occupies a floor of the home, in accordance to their standing within the family. Poisonous rivalries between sisters-in-law, destructive secrets, and the implosion of the family business threaten to unravel bonds of kinship as social unrest brews in greater Indian society.

This is a moment of turbulence, of inevitable and unstoppable change: the chasm between the generations, and between those who have and those who have not, has never been wider. The eldest grandchild, Supratik, compelled by his idealism, becomes dangerously involved in extremist political activism an action that further catalyzes the decay of the Ghosh home.

Rule number one when you’re busy: Don’t pick up a book nominated for the Man Booker prize, because man is it going to eat away at all your free time. One day I will learn.

It’s a tough read in some ways – there’s a lot of stories and jumping around; for a casual read you might miss an important detail and have to backtrack to work out where exactly you are. You’re also unlikely to like any of the main characters all that much.

There’s social unrest, police rebellion, social shifts and the battle between family ties and comfort in society against what is necessarily right for everyone. It paints a real picture on its social commentary, but it’s not afraid to get nasty – two particular scenes stand out, one involving a needle and thigh, and the other a whorehouse and excretion (eugh).

It is a tough book if you’re not in the mindset for it, and it felt every page and more in length as you read, but the quality of the writing and struggle it deals with at times is completely undeniable.

22nd  May 2014 | Random House UK, Vintage Publishing

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