Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The Accidental Apprentice by Vikas Swarup

I absolutely loved Vikas Swarup's two former novels, Q&A (better known as Slumdog Millionaire) and Six Suspects (still waiting for the movie version!) so I was really excited to read his new novel The Accidental Apprentice. Similar to Q&A Swarup is inspired by TV culture in his new book, but this time it's the idea of "the Apprentice" which drives a lot of the plot.

Sapna Sinha sells electronics for a living, and is the main breadwinner in what remains of her family after her father and younger sister tragically passed away. When she is accosted by a business tycoon at the temple one day, Sapna's life changes drastically. Vinay Mohan Acharya has an offer Sapna simply cannot refuse. He wants her to take over as CEO of his company when he retires. All she has to do, is pass seven tests. These will determine whether she has what it takes to be Acharya's successor. The exact nature of the tests remain secret until she either has passed or failed them. Easy, huh?

Well, the tests pretty much begin the moment Acharya makes her the offer. From this point, Sapna's life is no longer really in her own hands, other than how she chooses to deal with the (emergency) situations that keep happening around her. At the same time, Sapna is forced to revisit her past and deal with the loss of her sister and father once more, whilst simultaneously continue to be a rock for her mother and still living other sister.

What I love about Swarup's novels is that they shine a light on a lot of the social problems in India, without being sentimental or milking the social pornography. Sapna is thrown into situations where she has to face among other things child labour, black market organ sale, forced marriage, corruption, rape and general violence. Swarup balances these serious topics with a light tone and a sense of humour.

Much as I enjoyed the novel, there was one drawback for me. I had trouble really believing in Sapna, the main character. As a character, she seemed to be too many different things at once. Sensitive and scared, but the next minute bold and fearless. It just didn't seem to quite fit for me. Of Swarup's three novels, this is probably my least favourite one, but it did grow on me more and more as I read. It's still a good and exciting read (two of my friends are busy with it at the moment and loving it).

My greatest anticipation when reading a Swarup novel is that he always has a twist at the end. In The Accidental Apprentice he certainly delivers the goods. I really tried to guess what the twist would be, and I thought I had it kinda figured out, but once more he completely outsmarted me, and I didn't see it coming from a mile away. Swarup - 3, Sigrid - 0. Next time Swarup, next time!

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