Adiga's Booker winning White Tiger was a very good read: satirical, hard edged, brimming with wit and pace, it felt like it cut to the heart of modern India. Many readers may come to this hoping be for the same - and be disappointed.
Although this is Adiga's second book, it feels like earlier work. The writing is just a little less assured; the weight of its ambition hangs heavily over it. It is a determinedly serious piece. It lacks anything of the sour wit and vibrancy of White Tiger's somewhat amoral narrator.
Once you accept this, however, there is much to admire in Adiga's stories. All set in a fictitious town between the assassinations of Mrs Ghandi and her son, they spotlight the injustices of life in India: caste, poverty, corruption, religious intolerance, corruption, ignorance and yet more corruption. Generally, they avoid being depressing - even if their subject matter is - through the virtue of being beautifully and elegantly written. Artfully chosen details and metaphors illuminate the lives of Adiga's cast. Some are mundane, others more baroque, like the newspaper man who ends up literally eating the printed words.
There is something highly reminiscent of Joyce's Dubliners here. It is not just the fact that these stories all centre around the lives of ordinary, and not so ordinary, people in one city; it is also a similarity in the cultures - halfway between the life of the west or of the mainland, which seems to promise freedom and modernity, and a certain parochial staid small town attitude - that seeps into the stories. It is in the jewel-like quality of lives crisply and perfectly captured. And that's high praise.