Atlantic, £17.99, 419pp. £16.19 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Last Man in Tower, By Aravind Adiga

Aravind Adiga's vibrant third novel has the simple urgency of a thriller populated by a garrulous and opinionated throng of neighbours: the residents of Tower A of the Vishram Co-operative Housing Society, located in a promising spot between illegal slums and Mumbai's airport. When a local developer makes a wildly exciting collective offer to the members, he generates a frenzy of aspiration, greed and self-interest. On the table is a sum of rupees that is roughly 250 per cent of each apartment's market value – but acceptance must be unanimous. The three-month deadline for signing quickly switches from a distant formality to a looming threat as the residents realise that they are not of one mind: retired teacher Masterji has no inclination to sell.

Inhabiting Adiga's simple but compelling plot are Vishram's residents, whose backgrounds, preoccupations and increasingly open bickering give the novel plenty of colour and pungency. Quietly regarded as dipping into the Society's funds, Kothari is the long-standing secretary, derided as a "nothing" man for his low rates and equally meagre repairs to the building. Ibrahim's child-like personality has never suited his business of running an internet café, while Ramesh Ajwani has never hit the big time as one of Mumbai's real-estate brokers perhaps because of a lack of the killer instinct.

Social worker Mrs Rego, tartly known as "Communist Aunty", works in the poorer districts of Mumbai after her husband absconded with a younger lover with all her family wealth. Mrs Puri is the busiest figure, looking after her 18-year-old son whose Down's syndrome needs define her daily routine.

At the heart of the community is Masterji. "Controlling appetites and sorrows," with his beloved wife recently passed away and surviving son migrated to the inner city, Masterji "had accepted his lot with dignity, and this elevated his standing amongst his neighbours, who had all, in one way or another... been blighted by fate." And there's the rub; the developer's offer unleashes wild speculation, but also unlocks a repressed sense of entitlement – that the tabled cash is in some way a just recompense for lives of disappointment or harsh conditions (though none so harsh as those of the Society's cleaner, whose scrupulous honesty and vulnerable slum-dwelling existence offers a foil to the middle-class residents' baser instincts).

Adiga manages this stand-off well. Clumsy attempts to coerce Masterji to sign increase his intransigence, based on a principled refusal to be bullied but also bolstered by private guilt associated with the memory of his wife. Adiga's genius is in making the developer's offer so extreme; at about 400 times the average Indian income, it is future ease on a plate, which seeming generosity casts Masterji's resistance in a perverse light. Adiga exploits this tension in an increasingly hostile atmosphere. The residents' amateurish conspiracies are unconscionable but Masterji's indignation bears a whiff of selfishness, which allows an intriguing ambivalence in the reader's loyalties.

There's a darkly comic streak to the neighbours' avaricious machinations. This recalls the gleeful vengeance of Balram, whose rise from wily son of a rural rickshaw-puller to outlaw entrepreneur in Bangalore's boom won the Man Booker Prize for Adiga's debut, The White Tiger. The righteous energy of the underdog galvanises Adiga's fiction, from the injustice and corruption that framed Balram's origins to the richly textured short stories of a fictional Goan town in his excellent Between the Assassinations. Underpinning Adiga's seemingly genial vignettes was the casual brutality of indigent life, which boiled into outrage against the suffocating injustice of poverty and discrimination.

Last Man in Tower is less starkly political in tone. When Masterji decides he is fighting for an unspecified underclass rather than against a developer, his reasoning has less heft than the grinding labours of Adiga's previous outraged casts.

The pace of this novel is a return to the fiery attack of The White Tiger, while the portmanteau characters draw on the varied social stock of Between the Assassinations. The blend is rich and smooth. Scrupulous avoidance of stereotype adds depth, and Adiga's delicious prose (plump, sandaled toes suggesting "bonsai cleavage") ensures that his latest offering delivers a provocative plot with mischievous eloquence.

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor