Too many first novels are called ‘ambitious’. These days the typical ‘ambitious’ debut is deemed thus because of its amplitude – of detail, of character, of page count. Among its other achievements, Preti Taneja’s first book shows up many such novels as far less ambitious than they seem. For one thing, most of their detail is information, sourced rather than imagined. For another, they sit comfortably within current literary trends.
We That Are Young ticks a couple of boxes for the standard ‘ambitious’ debut: it is over five hundred pages long and generously peopled. But it also reminds us of what should be the true markers of literary ambition: originality and risk-taking. It is like nothing else in