Selection Day: A Review
Aravind Adiga has a reputation as a chronicler of the ambition of the Indian masses to bridge the gap of inequality. In this, his third novel, the scope is once again on the effort of members of the lower classes trying to make it into the exclusive world of privilege but this time the author goes about it by focusing on modern India’s great love: cricket.
Few things are more representative of the aspirations of the Indian masses than the dream to be a cricketer. IPL success stories capture the entire nation's attention and this allows the writer to detail another familiar Indian character, the entrepreneur who sees brilliant opportunities everywhere. The cricketers are Radha and his younger brother Manju, both exceedingly talented and continuously bullied by their father, who has made a contract with God that his son’s will be the best and second best batsmen in the wold. They make a less divine contract with Anand Metha who sponsors them in return for a percentage of their future earnings.
The novel is not a straight story on the pressure of schoolboy cricket and the potential for it to change the lives of those who would be invisible. Though there’s enough in that theme for an entire novel, Adiga expands further by introducing the character of Javed, a wealthy teammate of Manju who attempts to have the younger brother to attempt to make his own path in life instead of doing what his father has prescribed. Manju’s confusion and difficulties with his adolescent sexuality is one of the main drivers of the novel but unfortunately, it’s also one of the more thinly written parts of the novel. Perhaps it’s intentional but it seemed as though there was the potential to write deeper scenes of emotional conflict. When compared to the depth at which Metha philosophizes on the state of India and the Indian people every time he appears, it seems like a missed opportunity to not develop the poignancy of the Javed and Manju story.
A more character-focused author would have made the father of the boys, Mohan, the lead character of the novel. With his maniacal devotion to having his sons become the best, coupled with his bizarre superstitions (“No shaving before turning 21 as it releases hormones into the body”) he’s easily the most memorable character in the novel. Unfortunately his presence becomes rarer as the novel progresses and though this is necessary for the story’s progression, one does wish to see more of him.
The novel is extremely readable and the prose flows with great verve, making it possible to read the novel from start to finish without interruption. The problem with such a book is that when there’s no reason to stop and think about things the book can be a bit forgettable. The character of Metha is one of the most cliché, in the sense that he’s an entrepreneur who drinks a lot and doesn’t enjoy members of his social class and by having him spout drunken speeches regularly it becomes possible to gloss over the character, which is unfortunate because he delivers some of the best lines in the novel (He thinks cricket exists “to pacify hundreds of millions of desperately horny young Indians of the lower social classes”).
The entire novel is mostly well-written and like Adiga’s previous works serve as a broad satire on aspects on India, especially class-mobility. The scope of the novel is exceedingly ambitious and occasionally the writing doesn’t seem to convey the entirety of the ideas. But ignoring those occasional missteps, the novel remains entertaining and worth reading.