Perhaps the biggest challenge of writing a great first novel is leaving enough gas in your tank to produce an even better one the second time around if only to meet the increased hype and expectations that inevitably surround it.
Unfortunately, Aravind Adiga isn’t quite up to this task with Between the Assassinations, his follow up to the groundbreaking The White Tiger. Don’t get me wrong: Between the Assassinations is a very good book with some quite beautiful writing as well as some acute and at times acerbic descriptions of the frustrations of life in small-town southern India. But it sorely lacks the brim and brio of the author’s first novel and leaves you horribly deflated at the sheer helplessness of the lives of the characters it depicts.
One of the main reasons for this is that the book is a collection of loosely connected short stories rather than a novel. As a result, there is no grand theme or narrative arc like there is in The White Tiger – just a potpourri of lightly sketched portraits of people battling to survive the indignity and petty corruption of life in the fictional town of Kittur on India’s south-western coast
The book also cries out for a hero to hold the various story threads together and give some measure of hope that it is possible to break through the constraints of the oppressive social structure that is squeezing the life out of the town. But instead it assembles a cast of mediocrities lacking the energy and drive to achieve all but the smallest of victories.
Maybe, I am being a little harsh in my critique, for there’s no doubt that Between the Assassinations presents a very truthful picture of life in small town India and is well worth reading for that alone. It’s just that I’d expected so much more after the sheer unadulterated brilliance of The White Tiger.