IN BRIEF

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The Independent Culture
Beach Boy by Ardashir Vakil, Hamish Hamilton, pounds 14.99. We used to have a cat like Cyrus Readymoney, the ten-year-old protagonist of this story. After its daily feed, the said cat would nonchalantly slip out and trick its way into various other feline-friendly houses in the area, miaowing for its supper like it hadn't been fed for a week: we occasionally saw it staring back at us out of a neighbour's kitchen window.

Cyrus's greedy evening perambulations are in the Juhu Beach area of Bombay, circa 1972. The Krishnans, the Vermas, the Hussains, the Ericssons, all grudgingly make space for him at their dinner table - not that the boy doesn't get enough to eat at home: he is from a large and wealthy family of Zoroastrians. Much of the book, and its most vivid descriptions, is concerned with food: on holiday in Kerala, Cyrus is given the task of carrying his party's sumptuous packed lunch during a day's hunting and spends the morning in an agony of anticipation; he is constantly juggling the paise in his pocket to see what treat he can afford from a sweet stall or bhel poori vendor. Cyrus's other great love is Hindi cinema; he regularly scuttles off to Bombay's fleapits and loses himself in the pantomimic stories of love and war. Beach Boy is told by Cyrus in a series of sketches: the tone is breathless and the preoccupations and landscape convincingly childlike. Slowly, however, the adult world impinges - Cyrus even goes off his food - and by the end the narrative has taken on an elegiac, rites-of-passage tone. A delightful debut novel. Jonathan Dyson

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