Deepti Kapoor’s novel picks at the inequalities of Indian society but ultimately strays towards the conventions of TV dramas
Age of Vice is a novel about tradition and modernity, and about how the age of capitalism has changed India in some ways but in others not changed it at all. The plot of this gangster story revolves around three characters: a low-caste boy who is sold into slavery by his mother but is constantly trying to assuage the guilt he feels for his part in the family trauma that led her to that point; the astronomically wealthy but hopelessly naive son of a regional gangster who wants to use his influence and privilege to transform India for the better; and a middle-class journalist who is not sure if that’s what she really wants to be – an observer rather than an instigator. Each fantasises about changing something of their realities; each is thwarted by the fact that they cannot change one part of that reality without changing it all. Those realities cover issues of custom, tradition, religion, emulation, caste, class, family ties, economic inequality, social repression and a more widespread apathy in the face of change. All the things, in other words, that make up modern India.
Kapoor’s strength lies in her ability to convincingly portray both a wealthy younger generation of ‘new’ Indians who are out of touch with India’s grassroots realities, and a poor, ‘old’ underclass who are suffocated beneath them. Yet for all that it picks at the Gordian knot that is Indian society today, this novel ends up feeling more like a Netflix pitch than a devastating social study. Its undoubtedly gripping drama (exploitation, corruption, sex, drugs, murders, betrayals, prison rape and general debauchery) mixes aspects of TV dramas like Oz (1997–2003), movies like The Godfather (1972) and a touch of Succession (2018–23), but never truly pushes the boundaries of any of these established genres, let alone exploding or reinventing them. Much as is the fate of the characters in the novel itself.
Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor. Fleet, £20 (hardcover)