Q & A (a.k.a. "Slumdog Millionaire") by Vikas Swarup
A few months ago I read Rohinton Mistry's "A Fine Balance," which was probably one of the most depressing books I've ever read. Not only is it a book full of lepers, murders, and corruption, but the main character decides that the only answer to all of these lepers, murders, and corruption is a swift and nearly inexplicable suicide at the local train station.
I'm happy to say that Vikas Swarup's "Q & A" isn't even half as depressing as "A Fine Balance." Mr. Swarup does an excellent job of balancing the depressing bits against humorous moments, and this book closes on a high note.
It's not much like the movie though, so if you're looking for a repeat of the film Slumdog Millionaire you might be disappointed. The movie is more of a love story, while the novel is more a series of interconnected stories, loosely arranged around the questions that Ram has to answer on the quiz show.
I love both the movie and the book. Danny Boyle's film is an inspired look at poverty in India, while Vikas Swarup's book could be read as the triumph of an orphan (not always poor), against circumstances which would have destroyed someone of a less philosophical frame of mind.
Q & A is also genuinely funny, and it's hard to find books that are genuinely funny these days. My favorite part of the book has to be the "Tragedy Queen" chapter, which details the last days of an aging actress as seen from Ram's point of view. The actress in question is indeed a tragic, lonely figure, but several of Ram's observations during this chapter had me laughing out loud.
I liked this book a lot. I'd give it 9 stars out of 10.