Top critical review
on 10 July 2009
I recently saw the film of "Slumdog Millionaire" and, although enjoyable, I didn't feel it deserved all of the praise it had received. Wondering if I'd missed something, I decided to read the book.
The first thing you should know is that the book and the film are very different, the only real similarity being that both deal with a poor boy entering a TV quiz show and doing rather well, which makes the producers of the show suspicious. Aside from this, there are many differences. The show, for example, is clearly based on "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" but is very different (only two "lifeboats", one of which is a "phone a friend" where you can talk to your friend for two whole minutes; also the fact that after a certain amount has been won you have the choice to "pay or play", meaning you MUST answer the question, and if your answer is incorrect you lose everything...) The characters are also very different to the film, as is the whole plot, so whereas in the film the show was being broadcast live, in the book the show has been recorded and hasn't been screened yet... These are niggles, I know, but fans of the film who expect the book to be the same may well be disappointed.
The structure of the book is similar to the film. Each chapter is based around a particular question (again, the questions in the book are completely different to those in the film, and are mostly based on Indian history and culture) and is essentially a flashback, but the last page or two of each comes back to the present and sees Ram Mohammed Thomas in the hot seat on the show, being asked a question which somehow relates to what you have just read. It's an interesting device, but does become a little tiresome over the course of thirteen chapters.
Of the thirteen episodes in the book, some are very enjoyable, and some are downright nasty. There are a lot of horrible characters here - paedophiles, murderers, robbers, prostitutes, and as with the film, some who mutilate children for profit - so it is often a frankly unpleasant read, but it would appear that most of these appear in the first half of the book, so there is some light at the end of the tunnel. The writing is varied, some chapters being very easy to read and very entertaining, whereas others are more difficult, sometimes overlong, and some are extremely predictable in their outcome.
On the whole, fans of the film will enjoy the book as it offers a different take on essentially the same story. Personally I found it a little tiresome, although it is a decent first novel.
One final point: The final section of the book is quite interesting, containing an interview with the author, several web links for further information, and also a piece on a real-life winner of the show in India. It's almost like special features on a DVD. A nice touch.