I had really enjoyed reading Neel Mukherjee’s The Lives of Others and so I turned to this book. I have been a long-time subscriber of my library’s digital subscription, but it had been years since I used it. And so, this book broke that chain.
A Life Apart is the story of a young Bengali man Ritwik, who travels from Calcutta to England to study at Oxford University. Ritwik is from a humble background, and this is the 60s, so the chasm between his life in India and life in England is huge. A parallel storyline is one set in early 1900s, that of Miss Gilby, who’s an Englishwoman in British Calcutta. Ritwik is writing her story, so she’s actually a book within a book, which was very interesting. Mukherjee has picked up Miss Gilby from a small character in a Tagore novel, and drawn it out through Ritwik’s pen.
This is definitely a debut novel. It doesn’t have the smoothness of writing of Mukherjee’s later novel, or the tautness of structure. However, it is an enduring debut, with character-driven storytelling. Perhaps this would be very impressive if this is the first of his books you read. I enjoyed the complexities of Ritwik’s life, his strugges with his identity and Miss Gilby’s adventures. A fine read.