Odysseus Abroad by Amit Chaudhuri
Ananda is a lonely student, aspiring poet and transplanted Bengali living in a sketchy student flat with an assortment of other foreign students in the heart of London’s bedsitland. At 9am sharp every morning he practises singing Indian ragas as a form of revenge against the neighbours who wake him up with ill-judged pop music in the middle of the night. As he slyly observes, it is the melody that wakes them, they would have slept soundly through Karma Chameleon.
Not a lot happens in this novel which takes place over the course of one July day in 1985. Ananda goes to visit his mysterious fiftysomething Uncle at his bedsit in pre-gentrified Belsize Park and they go for a walk before returning home for a curry.
It is said that novels set in the past are always a commentary on the present day, and ultimately that is the source of Odysseus Abroad’s power. Chaudhuri’s unflinchingly accurate depiction of Thatcher’s London viewed through Bengali eyes is both funny and sad. It’s also a homage to James Joyce’s Ulysses, itself a homage to Homer’s Odyssey. This is a quiet narrative that speaks volumes.