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The Accidental Apprentice by Vikas Swarup | Book review

  Friday 22nd November 2013

Chances are you haven’t heard of Vikas Swarup, but you will know at least some of the plot from his debut novel Q&A because it was the basis for Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. Unsurprisingly then, most of the press so far for his third novel, The Accidental Apprentice, has concerned itself with the book’s potential to be realised on the big screen. This is a pretty fair – if not overly generous – assessment, because as a novel it’s lousy.

apprenticeThe plot (like that of its famous predecessor) concerns a young, down-at-heel dreamer in a teeming Indian metropolis, only female this time. Twenty-something Sapna has dropped out of college following her father’s death in order to support her family, which she does through her work in a New Delhi electronics store. While visiting a temple on her lunch break she is stopped by eccentric billionaire industrialist Vinay Mohan Acharya, who offers her the role of CEO with his company if she can pass his seven tests of leadership.

With a bit of fleshing out and a neat resolution, Swarup could have submitted the above paragraph to his nearest film producer and an adequate commercial thriller might have appeared a couple of years down the line. Instead he labours on with a little under 450 pages full of prose that is either tautological:

“It is like having a one-way conversation with a brick wall”; “bookcases filled with books”.

Or comically overblown:

“It’s like watching two bulls lock horns, their contrasting personalities clashing like storm clouds, the room reverberating with the thunder of their mutual animus.”

Often the book hammers its content at readers, just in case they’re comatose and can’t pick up its subtleties:

“He leaves the sentence hanging, but from the expectant look on his weasel-like face we can gauge his intention. He is asking for a bribe.”

(It’s worth pointing out that The Accidental Apprentice was written in English, not translated.)

All of this is a shame, because however silly the premise is, it’s surely no sillier than that of Slumdog, and like Slumdog there are plenty of interesting glances at contemporary India in the background. Unfortunately these are more or less buried under simply bad writing.  

Richard Fletcher-Woolley

The Accidental Apprentice is published by Simon & Schuster at the paperback price of £7.99, for further information visit here.

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