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Past Continuous

3.51  ·  Rating details ·  572 ratings  ·  88 reviews
Ritwik Ghosh, twenty-two and recently orphaned, finds a chance to start his life all over again when arrives in England to study. But to do that he must relive his entire past, unravel a thread of narrative he can only now bring himself to read. Above all, he has to make sense of his relationship with his mother- scarred, abusive, all-consuming.

But Oxford holds little of
Hardcover, 543 pages
Published January 18th 2008 by Picador India
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3.51  · 
Rating details
 ·  572 ratings  ·  88 reviews

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Kunal Sen
Oct 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The framing story here is Ritwik's and the story-in-the-story is that of Miss Gilby's; Miss Gilby herself is a minor character from Tagore's 'Ghare Baire' and Neel tells us her story, a new story (because it's her version of things, including events from the original hundred year old novel) in the old setting. The technique reminded me of Stoppard's resuscitation of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern from Shakespeare's Hamlet. The framing story (Ritwik's) is more riveting but Miss Gilby's tale often f ...more
Book Riot Community
Ritwik Ghosh is looking to start a new life when he travels from Calcutta to England to attend Oxford. But his schooling doesn't immediately guarantee him the good life, and dreams don't always come true, and he winds up living a shadowy existence performing odd jobs in the world of London's illegal immigrants to keep from going back to India. A remarkably sad but beautiful story, interspersed with a story Ritwik himself is writing.

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Vestal McIntyre
Sensual, beautiful, and gut-wrenchingly sad, this is the story of Ritwik, a boy who moves from the slums of Calcutta to Oxford on scholarship. In his attempts to stay in the country after graduation, he falls down a rabbit hole into a world of danger and exploitation: picking strawberries in the fields of Kent and hustling at King's Cross, all the while serving as a live-in nurse for a demented woman in her nineties, Anne Cameron. Ritwik’s relationship with Anne gives rise to some of the most te ...more
This book has received a lot of great critical acclaim but I found it hard to get into. It mixes two very different stories, one a historic fictional account of an English woman in India working as a tutor and companion to the wife of a wealthy local Indian man in the early 1900s, and the other a late 1900s tale of a young Indian man, orphaned and studying in Oxford on a scholarship. The historic story is apparently being written by the young Indian but the two - for me at least - just don't kni ...more
Dec 25, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The other reviews of this book on goodreads seem to be quite good but I have to admit it didn't really inspire me. Similarly to another book I have read recently, there are three stories interwoven into this novel and only the historical one about India at the time of Partition was the one I was really interested in. I don't know much about India or its history so this small part did frame some aspects for me. Others may find the descriptions of family life in Calcutta in the 1970s interesting. ...more
May 05, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is beautifully written, even some of the many "difficult" scenes, contained poetic elements. The parallel but interwoven stories propel the book forward. Just as Miss Gilby is innocent but growing insightful, Ritwik becomes a sad and somewhat jaded character. Both have insights, and search for themselves in foreign lands. This is a book I'd re-read in order to digest its beauty and imaginative scope. And yet, part of me, wants to shut out the lingering bitter but understandable tone of ...more
Alison Mercer
Jul 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fans of Alan Hollinghurst and E M Forster’s A Passage to India will love this brilliant debut novel. It’s crisply and truthfully written, with an acute eye for the way people behave when they are trying to negotiate unfamiliar environments. Sometimes shocking, sometimes illuminating, laced with wit and shot through with violence and sadness, it moves elegantly between two intertwined narratives. Both are stories of migration, but in opposite directions.
So, in the present day, Ritwik travels fro
Jun 02, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked the style of writing- distinct voices telling parallel stories of immigrant experiences. Both the character and plot parallels were clever and pointed and added a richness to the story. I did feel there were a lot of tangential characters and incidents that didn't evolve or add much - but overall I enjoyed the book - particularly the descriptions of expats in India during the beginning of the 20th century.
Jan 22, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Couldn't get interested, characters not very accessible and story moved way too slow.
Jul 16, 2017 rated it liked it
Past Continuous announced the debut of Neel Mukherjee as a novelist who was theretofore famous for his brilliant book reviews. (If you haven't read his reviews yet, I strongly suggest you do. They're as good as reviews can get.) It won some minor literary prizes here and there but did not manage to catapult him into the kind of fame that he deserved and garnered later post his Booker nomination for The Lives of Others.

This book carries two narratives - of an Indian student living in the 21st cen
Feb 09, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Two migrants: one modern, a young gay Indian man who overstays his UK student visa hoping to build a future far from painful memories of Calcutta; the other Edwardian, an educated British woman who joins her bureaucrat brother in Raj era Bengal and devotes herself to trying to improve Bengali women's education against a backdrop of political and social upheaval. Both outsiders, both in a sense illegal, both sadly naive.

This novel is often uncomfortable reading (at least for anyone who is Britis
Feb 06, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Meh.. Just another brick in the wall.. That Dostoievski so wanted to destroy..
Mar 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads, own
4.5 stars.

I was lucky enough to receive this through a Goodreads Giveaway. As a first novel, it certainly has its flaws, but, as a whole, it has enough heart, passion, and beauty to overcome them and make this an unexpectedly affecting reading experience.

First of all, the back-cover blurb (which is also used as the summary here) does a very poor job of selling the book, in my opinion. If it peaks your interest in the slightest, I would give the book a shot because it's honestly about a hundred t
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jee Koh
Alienated from his new country, the literary immigrant wants to prove that he belongs, how else, but by credibly, and thus creditably, narrating a story from the point of view of a native informant. In Mukherjee's debut novel, the protagonst Rikwit Ghosh brings to life the bit character of Miss Gilby, an Englishwoman in Raj India, from the Rabindranath Tagore story "Bimala's autobiography." The story about how Miss Gilby becomes the tutor of Bimala, the wife of an enlightened zamindar, and subse ...more
Apr 03, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2015, modern-lit
This is a compulsive, unflinching and accomplished debut novel.

The book alternates two main strands, that contrast the experiences of the English in India at the turn of the century and a literate, lonely Bengali orphan's experiences of England, initially on a scholarship to Oxford and later in the underworld of illegal immigrants in London, interwoven with a gay coming of age story. The historical part is presented as the work of the hero of the modern part, and tells the story of an English w
May 10, 2015 rated it it was ok
My first of this author, he tends to explain a bit too much, so much so that it hampers the narrative. story could have been made very taut but it spends much time dwelling on old age, child punishment, homosexuality, prostitution, illegal immigrants and such issues. No doubt, these aspects are part of the story but there is too much of explanation apportioned to each, breaking the flow of story. Ritwik is an Indian from slums of Calcutta on scholarship to Oxford and then degenerates into a pers ...more
Sam Schulman
Dec 03, 2009 rated it liked it
Strong meat for my taste - the parallel story of the narrator, a young Indian who, having watched the funeral pyres of his parent and encountered his mother's ghost, leaves for Oxford, where he writes the fictional memoirs of an Edwardian Englishwoman in Bengal who falls in love with her Bengali employer (given in full) and lives the life of a student/cruiser of public men's rooms.
When you've lived this sort of life, reading about it is otiose.
Manas Saloi
Had high expectations from this one after reading 'Life of others'. Was not that great.
Well, could only stomach half..the violence, the rage and hopelessness was too much to get through..want to try again..
Apr 07, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I always enjoy reading about India, past and present, and this book has some intriguing stories, but it's kind of a puzzle where the pieces don't quite fit.
Dec 12, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
completely engrossing. mukherjee's writing is amazing--somber, precise, and affecting.
Kirrin Eyears
Oct 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book has two main stories, that of Ritwik in the early 90's, who becomes an illegal immigrant in England, and that of Ms Gilby living in the British Raj in the early 1900s. The two stories are quite unrelated, but a few small hints link them vaguely. This book is more descriptive and thoughtful on a few events rather than having an interesting and ongoing plot. I don't know whether to give this book 3 stars or 4 stars, but I will go with four because I still really enjoyed the book, despite ...more
Aug 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mukherjee's debut novel (2010) is ambitious and wide-ranging. He really is an accomplished and skilful writer as he handles the contemporary story of Ritwik, Calcutta born and Oxford scholar and cottager, alongside the novel which Ritwik is writing about Miss Gilby, tutor to a Bengali lady during the political turbulence of the 1900s. The two stories interweave and echo each other. A great deal of tenderness, much wit and considerable shock drive the narrative in turn. Some fabulous description. ...more
Jan 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
I have read Neel's other works, and his beautiful writing was present in this book too. His books aren't so popular may be because they do not have out of the world storylines. His books rather revolve around bigger issues such as idealism (The lives of others), poverty (A state of Freedom) or outsiders (this book). If you like that wisdom of a good writer and a beautiful language then this book is for you. Also I have observed some writing styles are so fluent, book itself makes you read it so ...more
May 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read2019
Really two separate stories told in alternating chapters. An Indian orphan escapes poverty via a scholarship to study at Oxford. After Oxford he becomes part of the undocumented immigrant underground, caring for an elderly lady, making his living as a male prostitute. A middle aged British spinster in India is befriended by a liberal zamindar, teaching his wife English, becoming part of the family, until British partition of Bengal causes Hindu/Muslim violence to break out.
Artie LeBlanc
Sep 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Hmm. I don't know what I expected, but it wasn't this. Searing descriptions of life in several different milieux in the UK, as well as in India past and recent. Extremely cleverly crafted - although personally I didn't need such close acquaintance with the lavatories in St Giles. The relationship with old Mrs Cameron - Anne - is wonderfully drawn. The end is shocking, and the whole novel leaves a sense of loss and unfinished stories. Recommended.
Nov 14, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
These parallel stories of Ritwik, who struggles to find a new life after growing up in Calcutta, and Miss Gilby, who is companion and tutor to the wife of a 19th century zamindar in Begal, are compelling but at the same time, for my taste, rather overwritten; the book could have been 100 pages shorter. Nevertheless, this is impressive storytelling.
Oct 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I learned about Neel Mukherjee from Edmund White's recommendation. What a find. And what a voice. Mukherjee combines an historical plot with a very modern one. The voice and tone of each is perfect. He creates wonderful characters who behave true to their period. A wonderfully compelling reading experience.
Aug 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
very very interesting story, I just wish we could see into Ritwick's head because I think he is a very interesting character. I would loved to have seen the real him, instead of just bits and pieces. Liked this book very much. Could not put it down.
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Neel Mukherjee was born in Calcutta. His first novel, A Life Apart , won the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Award for best fiction, among other honors, and his second novel, The Lives of Others , was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won the Encore Prize. He lives in London.
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“Or does he know and suffer in silence, like King Arthur in the tale by Malory? Miss Gilby had been taken by surprise when she had reached the end of the story to find out that the aged King had known of his wife Guinevere’s adulterous relationship with Sir Lancelot for long but had kept quiet in the interest of the unity of the Round Table.” 0 likes
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