Literary hype is a commonplace. Reviewers skimming press releases quickly learn to discount, better still simply ignore, all adjectives on offer: take your pick from spectacular, spellbinding, masterful, evocative, explosive, engrossing, haunting, provocative, and so on.
Yet some clichés are so mesmerisingly awful you wonder whether the book can ever be worth reading. Or whether it can really be that dreadful. ‘India is a country of contrasts,’ Picador’s release begins, the Ultima Thule of travel-writing commonplaces, an introduction so heinously lazy I had written off Pankaj Mishra before reading a single word of his book.
That was premature. A man who contributes regularly to the New York Review of Books and dabbles in award-winning fiction should not be so easily dismissed. Fortunately, after the nadir of the press release, everything was uphill as Mishra sashayed forth into the sunlit pastures of subcontinental travel writing. This