Balran's India is full of cages. Prostitutes, whose golden hair is black at the roots, pose behind barred windows in brothels; in the markets, chickens flounder desperately on top of each other in crowded coops; in Delhi zoo, a rare white tiger prowls repeatedly along its bamboo wall, hypnotising itself into believing its imprisonment is tolerable. When it stops and stares directly at him, Balran, the hero of Aravind Adiga's accomplished and original first novel, swoons clean away. When he recovers, his destiny – and the bloody path he must follow – is clear.
On the page, this novel is a worthy winner of the Man Booker prize: a parable, a moral conundrum and a thriller. Yet it ups its game a thousandfold when read by the truly phenomenal Kerry Shale. It's near-impossible to believe that one person could bring a cast of magnificently various Indian voices so raucously to life. But he does. On they come, each immediately identifiable, laughing, shrieking, commanding and whispering into your ears, from Balran's ancient wily grandmother through to the high-ranking, corrupt politicians and policemen whose palms must be kept permanently and expensively greased, lest any one of a million dark secrets be allowed to seep out. It is a tour de force.