‘A lyrical and highly erotic love story’
        — The Mail on Sunday
‘Just finished reading Alchemy … what a masterpiece… hope you live another story so you can write it.’

      — Anuradha Mahindra

‘I just finished your book and think it’s absolutely wonderful. Enjoyed every page. It will live with me for a long, long time…’
— Prabuddha Dasgupta


Tejpal has found his story with a panache seldom seen in first novels – in grand strokes. With its eroticism and excitement of ideas this book heralds an arrival, says S Prasannarajan.

For one of Milan Kundera’s women in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, orgasm is her religion. That is pretty natural for someone in the pages of a writer who strikes a perfect balance between the sensuous and the cerebral, the erotic and the existential, all the while trapped in a merciless history. In the tropics, the newest site of novel’s reproductive frenzy, the act is less than art, with few honourable exceptions, and history, whenever it makes an appearance, does so with a capital H, not as an adjective but as an accessory. The crumpled narrative bedspread is soiled with bad metaphors. Then comes Tarun Tejpal, as the balladeer of the body, and whose first novel begins with an epigrammatic flourish: “Love is not the greatest glue between two people. Sex is.” Intimations are not deceptive, excavators are never at rest and passion is never spent. Still, in The Alchemy of Desire, throbbing and expansive, the carnal is not the only kinetic energy.

The romantic is at play in this novel, in turn meditative, melancholic and volatile, and the stage shifting to the rhythm of memory and history, the imagined and the immediate. He begins as a high-wattage lover, he burns out in the monotony of love, he drifts in the big city, he is reborn in the mythology of the hills, he becomes the chance inheritor of ancestral secrets, he becomes a story rewritten by the delirium of desire. He is the narrator and the narrative. Tejpal, certainly, is playing bold, breaking out of the received wisdom of the Indian novel in English, and this freedom of a first novelist is as frenetic as its pace, as elastic as its boundaries, and, refreshingly, least self-conscious. As lover and storyteller, the narrator of The Alchemy of Desire reaches out to the last recesses of pleasure and fear, and loses himself in the whirl of antique passions. When he comes back, liberated, it is a rewarding moment for fiction as well.

It is a love story written on the body, and it opens with the fist notation of rejection, unexplained by reason. An intense couple, he and Fizz have flourished in each other, as if life is lovemaking with coffee breaks. In his case, though, it is sex-breaks. He, a journalist, is steeped in Kafka and Joyce, Pound and other poetic profundities. He is also a struggling writer, his generational saga reaching nowhere. The story defies his old Brother typewriter. They move from the limiting Chandigarh to Delhi and he takes up a job as a sub-editor, the man of words, but it doesn’t take long for him to flee the newsroom and the “Brotherhood of Gleaming Glansmen”. The Alchemy takes wings when the couple buy a house in the hills, a house with its own history of desire, dark and haunting. It is his inheritance; it is his private salvation moment; it marks the redundancy of Fizz. The story of Catherine, the earlier resident, becomes a novel within the novel, stretching from Chicago to Paris to the nawab’s court in Jagdevpur and, finally, to the house in the hills.

The narrator intrudes into her story by chance, gets entangled in it by choice, and still wants to be her redeemer. “The phallus of chance in the hole of history.” The act is his redemption too; he is the preordained stylus of her story, an extreme narrative of sex, betrayal, love and denial. His own story, though thin in plot, is indebted to Catherine’s story, no matter how exaggerated it is by time. Tejpal captures the secret lives of the hills in intimate details, and their custodians, scattered across pages, carry within them stories worth living for. This novel, set in the last decades of the 20th century, with an ancestry going back to Partition, comes to a close on the millennium eve, and has its own share of political angst, naivety and cynicism in oneliners, and, in the end, they are unattached dissent, leaving no mark on the narrative. “You had to find your words. You had to find your story.” Tejpal has found his, with a panache seldom seen in first novels – in grand strokes. In the end, you have nothing but a story to gain, and this one, in its eroticism and excitement of ideas, heralds an arrival.

Tarun Tejpal is a hormonally-fuelled writer obsessed with the act of creation in its widest sense, delighted to flout the “never write about sex” maxim that his character unwisely sets himself. Largely avoiding cliché or off-putting gynaecological detail, Tejpal beats an erotic path through the depths of human desire: sexual, artistic, political... a memorable and impressive debut, says Lucy Atkins
As a fearless online sleuth, he shook the government. Now Tarun Tejpal, India's journalist hero, has turned from fact to fiction. Priyanka Gill meets him
It’s rich sexuality lifts this work way, way above the ordinary. Rare is the Indian writer in English who has ventured thus far with the language, force, imagery and originality, says Shastri Ramachandran
Those two journalists, Marquez and Hemingway will be proud of their tribesman, Tarun J Tejpal, says Paul Zacharia
“Safe books bore me,” says Tarun J Tejpal discussing his book and the experience of writing in the thick of battle with Lindsay Pereira
Tejpal has found his story with a panache seldom seen in first novels – in grand strokes. With its eroticism and excitement of ideas this book heralds an arrival, says S Prasannarajan