Fiction Accidental apprentice

Published on April 1st, 2013


The Accidental Apprentice by Vikas Swarup

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Blurb: In life you never get what you deserve: you get what you negotiate… What would you do if, out of the blue, a billionaire industrialist decided to make you the CEO of his company? No prior business experience necessary. There is only one catch: you need to pass seven tests from the ‘textbook of life’. This is the offer made to Sapna Sinha, an ordinary salesgirl in an electronics boutique in downtown Delhi, by Vinay Mohan Acharya, one of India’s richest men. Thus begins the most challenging journey of Sapna’s life, one that will test her character, her courage and her capabilities. Along the way she encounters a host of memorable personalities, from a vain Bollywood superstar to a kleptomaniac Gandhian. At stake is a business empire worth ten billion dollars, and the future she has always dreamt of. But are the seven tests for real or is Acharya playing a deeper game, one driven by a perverse fantasy? (Simon & Schuster, 2013)

Lucy Atkins, The Sunday Times

This is, in short, a slightly daft book. But perhaps the biggest shock of all is that it is simultaneously extremely readable. Pages flip; the nutty plot skips jauntily along. What on earth will happen next? The ending looks as if it’s going to be far-fetched. It is. But it is really rather entertaining anyway. This is because Swarup’s voice has a magical quality — an essential kindness, a likeability, a whiff of innocence that makes the flaws seem somehow forgivable.

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Paul Dunn, The Times

The first six tests proceed like a modern fairytale, with each quest successfully completed and the only real question being the extent to which Acharya is pulling the strings. At this stage, The Accidental Apprentice doesn’t seem like much of a novel. Swarup’s prose is crisp without ever being memorable, and Sapna remains too naive and one-dimensional ever really to grow as a character, and Acharya remains in the shadows, his motives unclear. But what the story lacks here, it more than makes up for in narrative drive — especially when it catches fire with the seventh test. When Sapna’s sister is viciously assaulted, seemingly at Acharya’s bidding, events spiral out of control …

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Raghdu Karnad, The Financial Times

At times Sapna’s story seems to be running alongside a ticker-tape of yesterday’s news. In building these scenes, Swarup leans harder on fidelity than invention, which is a pity. Real events in India have a rub-your-eyes quality that should license fiction to fly further out, but mostly it lags far behind.

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