Book No 7 (2014) : The Impressionist

impressionistSweeping Indian novels are a passion of mine – I cut my teeth on ‘The Far Pavilions’ when I was about 14 and swore for years afterwards that I would name my son ‘Ashton’ after the lead character! Well, that didn’t happen, but I have enjoyed many Indian sagas since then.
The Impressionist’ by Hari Kunzru, is the story of Pran Nath, born as the result of a fleeting union between an English officer and an Indian beauty. Circumstances see him ousted from his privileged home and catapulted into a series of lives from a male prostitute to a place at Oxford. He encounters characters from all walks of life, most of whom appear to be indifferent to him, and with whom he rarely forms any mutually meaningful attachments. Pran/Rukshana/WhiteBoy/Pretty Bobby and Jonathan Bridgeman (Pran’s various personae) are all ‘dodgy’ characters, drawn to the seedier side of life, quick to exploit opportunities. But Pran is essentially a blank canvas, a chameleon soaking up the hues of his surroundings, using the pale colour of his skin to his advantage. His quest to find his place in the world is at times violent, amusing and thrilling.
It’s not a quick read and the pace seems to slow, leaving the conclusion somehow unfulfilling. At times I was enthralled by the book, but towards the end found my concentration waning. Despite it having been critically acclaimed, ‘The Impressionist’ is not a novel that I particularly enjoyed.