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India-set mystery/thriller that relies on coincidences a little too much, but still plenty to enjoy
on 25 April 2014
3.5 stars, but I’ll round up to 4.
I’ll be honest – I read this because I enjoyed the book and film of Q&A / Slumdog Millionaire. I liked the sound of the plot, and I fancied another trip to Swarup’s India.
Having just finished, I have mixed feelings about The Accidental Apprentice. The ‘what if’ that drives it all is a good one: what if… a rich man offers you his multi-billion company? Pass his tests, and you get the position of CEO. A great wish-fulfilment scenario. This is what happens to Sapna Sinha, a sales assistant in a Delhi electronics store. Sapna’s family are struggling to pay their bills, her mother is mourning a husband and daughter, and her sister dreams of fame and fortune, leaving Sapna head of the family.
Initially reluctant, circumstances force Sapna to accept the CEO’s offer, and the tests begin. But they are not what Sapna was expecting.
Sapna’s world is a well-created one, I could see the cities, the slums, the villages that she journeys through. I liked her – she’s smart and well-read, demonstrates her spirit and resourcefulness and shows herself to be an admirable person. Her sister Neha and mother are harder to like – neither gets enough page-time to be wholly sympathetic, though Neha gets a few scenes to become a little less two-dimensional.
The story itself gets quite episodic – each ‘test’ gets its own chapter, and you can see some ‘twists’ coming. They are enjoyable though – I let the sillier parts of the story wash over me, as I was enjoying the idea of the tests and seeing if I was right about my guesses. Lots of Sapna’s friends seem remarkably well-placed (geographically as well as career-wise) to assist Sapna just when she might need them, conveniently. Coincidence, as in Slumdog Millionaire, plays quite a big role. This works both in the book’s favour and against it – it can seem similar to Swarup’s previous book in this respect, but the plot does have some clever turns and one particular twist at the end that I didn’t see coming. I thought I was reading a written version of the Michael Douglas film ‘The Game’… but then it turned again.
There are a few dodgy phrases of English that I couldn’t be sure were meant to be written that way or if they were just badly edited, but they did jar occasionally.
I also couldn’t decide if the author didn’t plan all along for this to be made into a film, as it’s perfectly structured and characterised to have all the elements needed for a good thriller/mystery movie: mystery benefactor, resourceful heroine, smouldering but reluctant love interest, sad back-stories of death. In some ways it might make a better film than a book.
There is less poverty than in Slumdog Millionaire, but it’s still a big part of the book – sweat shops, forced marriages and honour killings, street muggings, slums all feature and are integral to the story. Sapna herself lives on the edge.
Overall, an enjoyable read if you can accept the coincidences and contrivances. A great time can be had guessing just what is going on. I would also watch this as a film, a good set of roles here for some unknowns.