Tag Archives: disappointment

I never thought I’d say this, but Vikas Swarup’s latest book SUCKS

1 Jun

I don’t ever judge books by their covers. Instead, I judge them by their first pages. Whenever I find myself in a bookshop (which is probably more often than is healthy), I grab a couple of novels in the genre I fancy, skim the blurb, and read page 1. If the style doesn’t grab me, I move on. It’s a simple, efficient method that has worked for me with great success.

About two weeks ago, I broke my own rule. I bought a book without even opening it. Featuring a girl in ugly sweat pants running into a grey blur of traffic, what made this cover stand out was the name of the author. In larger-than-humble, bright and tacky purple capitals, a gleeful me was informed that VIKAS SWARUP had published another of his adventure stories.

I was elated. This dude is, after all, the writer who got me into all things Indian. His vivid portrayal of the country and its people was what led me to discover other literary favourites like Shantaram and The god of small things.

Vikas Swarup is the rare sort of writer who can use a completely unbelievable premise for a story and just weave such realness into in. Or at least, he used to be that sort of writer. Where Slumdog and Six Suspects were bloody brilliant – the type of books that cause a happy suspension of eating, sleeping and having sex – this new one, The Accidental Apprentice, may as well have been written by a 12 year old with average talent. It’s PATHETIC.

The worst book you'll read all year

The worst book you’ll read all year

Telling the story of Sapna Sinha (a not-too-pretty but heart-of-gold TV salesgirl), the book follows her through seven tests she has to perform in order to become the CEO of an eccentric gazillionaire’s multinational company. Yup, you read right – the story is about a shop assistant in a HiFi Corporation who gets picked to become the CEO of something like BHP Billiton. What utter shit…

Still – it has the makings of a good Vikas Swarup story.

1. Ridiculous premise – check!
2. Underdog main character – check!
3. Tests / quiz questions to base the chapters on – check!

I expected something like Slumdog – that the seven tests she is given are somehow informed by her life experience, each chapter telling the story of how she had come to possess the knowledge and skill to pass the given test.

I was wrong. The tests aren’t even tests, but instead random things that just happen to her. Plodding along slowly, we see Sapna pass “test” after “test”.

Each and every time, the same crap is repeated:

Step 1: Something unlikely happens. The language used to describe this something unlikely is painfully bad.

Step 2: Sweet, syrupy Sapna does “the right thing”. The language used to describe this right thing is painfully bad.

Step 3: The gazillionaire dude summons her and informs her that – boom! – she has passed yet another test. The language used to describe this is painfully bad.

Step 4: She is baffled by how he could have known about yet another good deed she did, and decides to go back to selling TVs. You guessed it – the language used to describe this is indeed painfully bad.

To illustrate:

The “Integrity Test”:

The lame-ass electronics store Sapna works for is visited by Bollywood’s biggest star. I’m talking Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Aniston kind of big. The star thinks a TV shop is the perfect place to announce her engagement to the press. She somehow loses her boulder-sized diamond. Sapna finds it and returns it, even though the star was mean to her. Yay, Sapna!

The gazillionaire summons her. She has passed the test of integrity. She is baffled and goes back to selling TV’s.

(Plot-fail alert! Why the hell would the Cameron Diaz of Bollywood announce her engagement at a HiFi Corporation? In fact – why would she even BE there?? Everyone knows only D-grade losers like Kurt Darren do “public appearances” in local shops. LAME!)

The type of celebrity that visits Hifi Corporation

The type of celebrity that visits Hifi Corporation

The type that doesn't.

The type that doesn’t.

The “Courage Test”:

Sapna visits a small village to help them plug in their new TVs. (No. I’m not kidding). On the bus there, she sits next to the Ruda Landman of India – a hard-hitting journo on her way to expose how young girls are forced to marry men they don’t love. She shows Sapna how she uses her cellphone to stream live footage to their CNN-ey website.

Sapna gets to the village and shows them how to plug in their TVs. She meets a girl who will be forced to marry an old perv. She saves the girl by going into the toilet and switching on her phone’s video camera. The girl’s family miraculously calls off the wedding because dear, sweet Sapna recorded them slapping her around a bit, and managed to stream it live to her bus-buddy’s website. The whole world sees, and the girl is free! Yay, Sapna!

The gazillionaire summons her. She has passed the test of courage. She is baffled and goes back to selling TV’s.

(Plot-fail alert! Since when can members of the public simply record random videos and stream it live to news sites?
At best, Sapna would have had access to her own Twitter account. And given how bloody annoying she is, that would only have reached about 14 people.)

Let’s stop this dismal summary right here. The truth is, I couldn’t get further than halfway through the book. I only got as far as I did because I was reading at a hair salon that did not offer me any magazines. And I only bought it at all because I was stupid enough not to read the first page.

Perhaps it’s a bit unfair to condemn a book I didn’t even finish, but I don’t care.

Don’t. Buy. This. Book.

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