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The Impressionist
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on 21 September 2013
This is a gripping read from nearly the start to the finish - I say nearly the start because the first few pages focus on a character who is not our main hero and I got a bit confused and had to start over, but once you get into it it's brilliant. Highly recommended
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on 18 August 2016
Loved the book.
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on 4 September 2015
I am slowly running out of books that hold my attention. I found this totally absorbing and found it hard to put down to perform life's necessary jobs. An amazing use of descriptive language and I would recommend this to anyone that has not already read it. Enjoy.
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on 30 July 2017
Brilliant
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on 28 September 2013
I found this so difficult to read because of its violent content in some parts but it fitted perfectly into the story and left me feeling quite sad at the lives so many people have lived before me i this part of the world
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on 1 August 2014
If you are looking for something to read - read this. You won't be disappointed.
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on 5 January 2012
In his impressive and successful novel, Hari Kunzru explores the nature of identity. For some people a sense of belonging is very strong, whereas for others such feelings are mere illusion. The former group may cite social group, language, culture or religion as evidence of their stance, while the latter group, perhaps, may cite exactly the same subject matter to prove the opposite. The more politically inclined may even cite our relationship to the means of production as the primary source or personal and social identity. In that case, the way that we make our living provides much of what we perceive as identity, and, in Hari Kunzru's book, The Impressionist works through several quite different lives.

It's not that The Impressionist, the principal character of Hari Kunzru's novel, has no identity. Indeed, The Impressionist has a whole host of them, and all of them are both complex and, at the same time, completely credible. It is those around him who endow him with the trappings that confirm who he is. And he, of course, responds, donning new lives according to each new coat he wears.

The book's style seems to owe much to the magical realism of Salman Rushdie. There is also a superficial similarity of subject matter, since The Impressionist begins in colonial India where we witness our hero's chance conception. There are royal parlours, low-life slums and chance encounter. We see the inside of an English public school, a prestigious university and eventually travel to Africa in a professional but doomed role. And throughout, The Impressionist seems to do no more than merely fit into the niches that have apparently been prepared for him. Everything he tries on fits him well.

So, as we follow The Impressionist on his personal travels through multiple identities, we are challenged by the transformations. They are opened up by chance encounters, but yet they also seem inevitable. We are thus encouraged to look at our own lives and ask how many times we might have changed our own spots. A reader with a strong sense of identity might find such a challenge quite threatening. But then it's just a story, isn't it?
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on 1 April 2013
I spoke too soon about the book of the year - without doubt, this is the one. Sometimes you can go through a fallow period of books that don't quite touch any of your enthusiasms with the requisite narrative depth. Then two come along at once, and I am hard pressed to say which one I like best. This one just trumps the one below because it is a gripping and honest portrayal of a venal yet attractive personality. It is truly outstanding, dazzling, riveting, totally engrossing. For once the hype is real.

It begins with an English man in the Indian scrubland, who is about to be caught in a monsoon which will kill him, but not before he meets a beautiful woman who saves him from being swept away as a riverbed swells. The result is Pran Nath, a child with white skin, but an Indian background. As Chandra, and later in the retinue of a Mughal leader, he is the prey of almost everyone he comes across. Then, through an ironic mishap and an audacious impersonation, as the Indian mutiny gathers in ferocity, he gets the chance to become Jonathan Bridgeman and travel to England, where he learns how to be an Englishman. This is not easy and we inhabit his fears and unease at the strangeness of English manners and mores. He has the name of a lawyer in England, who tells him that he has inherited a large amount of money, and he is advised to go to public school. In time his gifts lead him to gain employment with a professor of anthropology, he falls in love with an English girl, but he is dismayed when he finds himself bound to Africa to visit an isolated tribe that the professor has studied for a number of years.

Jonathan's Impressionism is part mimicry and part an acute psychological study of every aspect of being English, but it is also a façade, and events in Africa come to show him how flimsy his veneer of Englishness has penetrated. Africa is his undoing.

This is a riveting story centred on the subject of identity and whether anyone could impersonate another human archetype beyond the deep-seated core of the self. What lies beyond the self? And what damage does it do to a person to go there? Questions of race and psychology are raised by this perceptive and adventurous writer. This is a brilliant book: witty, energetic, searching, thrilling and beautifully written.
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on 26 October 2016
A most remarkable story. It ends in the same manner it began and I don't think some reviewers understood this and felt unsatisfied. I thought it was a fitting ending and made sense of everything that happened and brought you to that place. Another criticism was that it was rambling and needed cutting. I read it so quickly I almost wished it went on longer, but I was satisfied. It has inspired me to read more of his work.
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VINE VOICEon 16 March 2009
This is the rollicking tale of Pran Nath, the spoilt and cruel son of Pandit amar Nas Razdan who is besotted by him - and is especially proud of his son's pale skin. But Pran is in fact the son of a British officer and this is revealed by an angry servant. Pran is thrown out and is soon destitute but is taken on by a brothel. Then follows a series of adventures during which Pran takes on different identities. His good looks and sharpness of mind attract him to many and eventually he finds he can often convince colonials that he is English. He eventually arrives in England and assumes life as an aspiring Oxford scholar.

In all the roles he plays he lacks any sense of commitment (eg to Indian nationalism, politics, support of friends). His aspiration to assume an identity seems to prevent him from developing as a full human being.

The Impressionist has lots of observations on race, empire and identity. It is very satirical on Anglo-Indians and other castes and classes - no-one escapes! I loved the reference to Major Privett-Clampe's gin sundowners and how this drink had gradually inched forward in time to nine o'clock in the morning!

An excellent read - though I was not really happy about the ending which I thought was a bit vague.
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