BIOGRAPHY THE STORY OF MY ASSASSINS THE ALCHEMY OF DESIRE PHOTOS CONTACT
SYNOPSIS
REVIEWS
READERS' SPEAK
PHOTO GALLERY

‘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


IN THE SUNDAY TIMES

Fiction: The Alchemy of Desire by Tarun J Tejpal; Q and A by Vikas Swarup

REVIEWED BY LUCY ATKINS


The Alchemy of Desire, a bold and weighty first novel, tells the story of a passionate marriage that disintegrates. Set in India at the turn of the last century, it is also an exploration of the clamour, creativity and confusion at the heart of a nation in flux, a land that seems destined for “rule by lunacy”.

The narrator is a would-be novelist whose fevered love for his wife dominates his life. When they marry (against their families’ wishes) they are young, penniless idealists. He gives up his journalistic job to write a great novel that will encapsulate his intellectual ideas of India. But he simply loses interest halfway through. In contrast, his relationship with his wife — rich, convincing and insatiable — seems endlessly fertile. They come into some cash and buy their dream house in the mountains.

Hidden in a cavity in the wall he finds explicit notebooks written by Catherine, the American who built the house in the early 1900s. Soon he is deciphering the books, consumed with dark fantasies about Catherine and, for the first time ever, losing all desire for his wife.

First novels about novelists can make the heart sink, but Tejpal goes beyond navel-gazing. He 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. Indeed, sex is practically a character in its own right here, endlessly examined in all its luscious, experimental glory. At times this can get a bit much (can they not just have a cup of tea?), but overall the prose works. Largely avoiding cliché or off-putting gynaecological detail, Tejpal beats an erotic path through the depths of human desire: sexual, artistic, political.

The story is briefly less convincing when we head back in time to the fleshpots of early 20th-century Paris for the debauched sexual awakenings of the young Catherine at the hands of “rakish” men with names such as Rudyard. But this is a temporary lapse. Overall, the tale of marital crisis feeds into (and from) India itself, a scary combination of testosterone, superstition and chaos that has fallen into the hands of a power-hungry “Confederacy of Gleaming Glansmen”. Though overwhelming at times, this is certainly a memorable and impressive debut.

Q and A is an equally lively though undeniably lighter first novel from India, with a neat if rather gimmicky structure. Ram Mohammad Thomas, a penniless waiter from Bombay, wins a billion rupees on a quiz show billed as India’s answer to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. He is instantly arrested as a cheat: how, demand the potentially bankrupt producers, could an uneducated youngster who cannot name the currency of France or the man who first stepped on the moon, win the “biggest prize ever offered on earth”? His only defence is to talk his lawyer through 12 episodes of his life in order to explain how he simply “(got) lucky” with a dozen questions to which he freakishly happened to know the answers.

Each of the events from his life makes a chapter: for instance, he knew the meaning of “persona non grata” because he once worked for an Australian diplomat, ordered to leave India within 48 hours for “activities incompatible with his diplomatic status”. India is equally chaotic, enchanting and corrupt in this spirited novel, but ultimately it is hard to work up much sympathy for the deadpan narrator.

Available at the Books First price of £10.39 plus £2.25 p&p each on 0870 165 8585



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
HOME  |  CONTACT