I picked up The Romantics expecting exactly what it turned out to be: a novel, which falls short of a cohesive honesty due to an unfamiliarity with the surroundings of where the plot of the novel is based in. But maybe this deduction sounds a little too harsh, especially when one is to consider it was the first novel that Mr Mishra wrote and that he was just 25 years of age when it was published. The literary quality of the narration gleams of practised talent and sincere diligence, as powerful imagery is littered all around chapters which loosely connect to each other and reveal bits about the protagonist which become apparent enough from the very first page and hence, nothing really surprises the reader as he scathes through the whole of it. Somehow, The Romantics fails to connect the reader to the India which it aims to do as the characters also seem oblivious of the Varanasi which lives and breathe around them, each one of them a little too pre-occupied with their own lives. The characters by themselves, without much grounding in their settings and backgrounds seem rather abstract and literary, and hence adds an element of eerie solitude and detachment from the rest of the world, which is both scary and comforting at the same time for the reader. The tone of the narration makes it clear to the reader that there is an impending tragedy but nothing really happens to create a stir, as everything moves on to the same melancholy with which it began. Despite all it’s inaction, the plot grips the reader with a shimmering hope and hence achieves the purpose with which it might have been written and accordingly titled. Mr Mishra’s The Romantics is definitely not an half-hearted effort, but it still lacks a connect with the land to which it belongs; something like Kushwant Singh can boast of, but then its natural to create and imagine along the lines of the European (and American) literature that this generation of Indians, including Mr Mishra himself grew up reading.
Pankaj Mishra's debut novel. He was around 26 when this semi-autobiographical work was published. If you want to introduce yourself to Indian english-language fiction and look outside of the Rushdie-Ghosh-Roy sphere, Pankaj Mishra is the go-to author for you.