Having survived a childhood in Calcutta blighted by poverty and abuse, Ritwik Ghosh, the hero of A Life Apart by Neel Mukherjee, arrives in Oxford determined to make England his home. Bookish, bright and gay, an idealistic scholarship student, he looks past the dreaming spires and delves into the hedonism of the city before later moving to Brixton and working the streets at King’s Cross.
Beautifully written and intelligently perceptive, A Life Apart is a novel about difference and expectation and the ironies that punctuate the middle ground between them. Brought up on Enid Blyton, Ritwik doesn’t imagine he’ll feel as culturally isolated in England as he does, even though most of the xenophobia he experiences comes from other foreigners in London: his Pakistani neighbours; the eastern European pimps who patrol Meat Mile.
During the day, Ritwik pens a novel about a young English woman living in schismatic Bengal at the turn of the century. Based on a minor character in a Tagore novel, Miss Gilby lives – like every character in Mukherjee’s novel – a life apart, both culturally and,