Skip to main content
Bookish Thoughts

Book Review: Q & A, or the Indian Novel Lite

By March 18, 20113 Comments

Okay, so saying Q & A is “lite” is relative. It’s 318 pages, and that might not be light for a lot of folks. But my frame of reference is A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth (1488 pages), A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (624 pages) and Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra (992 pages). Do you see a theme here? I’ve already gone on about the length of the Indian novel, and it’s part of what I love about them. So comparatively, Q & A is on the light side.

Q & A is the novel by Vikas Swarup upon which Slumdog Millionaire is loosely based. So if you’ve seen the film, you know the basics of the story. Ram Mohammad Thomas (they left this name out of the movie, but in the book it’s pretty important that he has names from three of the major religions in India–Hinduism, Islam and Christianity) is born an orphan (in the film he has a mother) and grows up in the slums of Mumbai, Delhi and Agra. The book and the film have the quiz show in common, and that Ram is suspected of cheating after having won the whole thing. The book is a bit more brutal in what happens to Ram when he’s suspected of cheating, which is maybe more realistic to the Indian police and their treatment of people from the slums; I can’t say for sure. And in both the book and the film, the key to understanding how Ram wins the quiz show lies in the details of his life. Beyond that, there are quite a few differences between the book and the film.

I like Indian novels in general. Even the short ones. But I have to confess, Q & A just didn’t do it for me. Jeremy at Beltwayliterature asked a question on his blog about reading a book before seeing the movie or vice versa. Do you always read the book before you see the movie? I said then that I’ve never had a movie ruin a book for me; generally the book is either as good as or better than the movie. I take it back with Q & A and Slumdog Millionaire. The movie was much better.

What I didn’t like:

– I feel like I got a lot of plot–some fairly intricate plotting–but not a lot of development of the character of Ram Mohammad Thomas. He seems fairly empty and not very well-drawn to me. Some really amazing, interesting and sometimes sad things happen to him, and I found myself not really caring that much at times about Ram as a character.

– I felt like the ending was a little far-fetched and weird. There’s an interesting twist that I didn’t see coming, but I found it implausible, and ironically, too filmy (a great word that may or may not be limited to Swati’s blog, but if it’s not a word, it really should be, shouldn’t it?). I felt this last part of the book was saying, “Look! Make me into an action packed movie!” Even though they left out this last part in the film. Ditto with the revelation about his lawyer in the end of the book, which is also not in the film and seemed too filmy (Love it! Add it to your vocabulary today.).

What I liked:

– The plot device where you use each question Ram answers correctly on the quiz show to tell an episode of his life is quite clever and satisfies my deep need for things to fit together neatly.

I know folks in the blogosphere debate about negative reviews, but I checked this out of the library, so I feel fairly guilt-free. I don’t review books I don’t finish, because those are the really bad ones, but if I had a rating system (which BookBelle has very subtly suggested I might develop), and it was out of five stars, I’d really probably give it a one and a half.  Yeh, that’s a crappy rating system, but I grade (partly) for a living, and sometimes assigning a book any kind of grade just seems like too much.

What about you?  How do you feel about rating systems?  Helpful?  Hard to do?  Indifferent?

Coming soon:

Ines of My Soul, by Isabel Allende
Perhaps a blog about my thoughts on placism…
Thoughts on reading more globally and multiculturally as inspired by finding a new book blog,  Reading In Color


  • With all of the bloghop stuff this weekend I somehow missed this post. I actually *really* liked Q&A, though I agree it is certainly lighter than the mammoth Indian novels you love. (And which I've not read. My opinion of Q&A might be different if I had…)

    I thought the book was solid as a work of semi-literature, enlightening from a cultural standpoint, and engaging in terms of plot. I also liked that the movie, while not doing a plotpoint-by-plotpoint version, stayed true to the spirit of the book, with the only thing I missed from the movie being the significance of his name.

    As for rating systems, I'm not sure that I'll ever use one for the books I review. I think there's a danger of assigning a quantifiable grade to something as subjective as a review. I guess I feel that my reviews should be clear enough to speak for themselves, and if there IS any ambiguity that it works in the books favor so that more people will read it and judge for themselves.

    For example, I read your review of Q&A with your pros and cons and, out of a possible 5 stars, after reading your review I would have guessed that you'd give it at least 2, if not 2.5. It was clear you didn't love it, but according to my interpretation of the pros, there were sufficient redeeming factors to make the book readable and enjoyable. I was surprised then when you said only 1.5. Then again, it might be my own bias in Q&A's favor that made me read your review as more favorable than it really is.

    Ack! I'm glad that I'm not a teacher, or in any profession than demands I must give a quantifiable assessment to someone else's work on a regular basis! 🙂

  • Robyn says:

    Emily, as I was writing my review, I was thinking, why am I comparing this to these other mega-Indian works? Why not compare it to something completely different? Alas, I think sometimes that's just how our brains work. I'd agree that if you see it as semi-literature (nice genre label) it's entertaining enough. I should have added in my review that I also like the part in Agra, working as a tout in the Taj Mahal. That is a beautiful, beautiful place, and I cannot not see anyone not being moved by their first sight of it. I saw it at sunset, but I would love to go back and see it in the moonlight.

    Yes, I hate grading. I hate having to explain my grade. Really, all I should have to do is tell them what they did well and what they need to improve on, but I think students would still want some kind of grade, something quantifiable. I never look at the ratings folks give books on their blogs. I'm a qualitative person. Give me words and description and how it made you feel.

  • mel u says:

    I would like to invite you to consider participating in

    Irish Short Story Week-3/14 to 3/20
    Now extended until March 23

Leave a Reply