In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick


Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

‘Trick Mirror’

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Ruining the DaalThomas Jones

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website ( — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.

  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
One Day 
by Ardashir Vakil.
Hamish Hamilton, 292 pp., £12.99, February 2003, 9780241141328
Show More
Show More

Towards the end of this, Ardashir Vakil’s second novel, a successful Anglo-Indian novelist is quizzed by a group of friends in a North London kitchen about the way he writes, and about the subject of his next book. He discusses with a barrister the benefits of revision – he rewrites everything three or four times – and concision. When writing submissions, the lawyer says, ‘you have to condense a story into the space of a page, and tell it well, while making sure that all the points of law are included … The French call it zéro style’ [sic]. Jehan, the novelist, says he wants ‘to try and see if I can go in that direction in my next book’. He’s less willing to be drawn on the question of what the novel will be ‘about’. Eventually, his wife, a ‘beautiful psychotherapist’, announces to the room that ‘it’s about masturbation.’ It isn’t clear how literally she means this; she may be making a wry comment on her husband’s profession – the writing of novels could be seen as a self-indulgent and sterile occupation. Developing, if unconsciously, the metaphorical potential of the theme, another character, Jocelyn, says later that what she ‘can’t be doing with are novels about the trials and tribulations of middle-class North London couples. We’ve had enough of those to last us fifty years. Whingeing double-income liberal parents, please let us have no more of their banal utterances.’

At the centre of One Day are a married couple, Priya Patnaik and Ben Tennyson. He is a schoolteacher and cookery writer; she works in radio. They live together in North London, in a flat just off the Holloway Road, with their son, Arjun Tennyson Patnaik, or Whacka, as he is more usually known, after the way he mispronounces ‘Frère Jacques’, which he asks Ben to sing to him almost every night. ‘But it fitted with everything he was . . . Whacka was a kicker, a screamer, a street-fighter, a spear-carrier, a banshee all rolled into one.’ The day in question is Monday, 15 March 1999, the Ides of March, and Whacka’s third birthday. The novel opens soon after midnight: Priya and Ben are in bed. He is propped up on his orthopaedic pillow reading The Inner Game of Tennis; she, lying next to him, ‘knees bent, thighs fanned out, soles of her feet meeting like an Indian dancer’s, a diamond shape in the bedclothes between her naked legs’, is masturbating. Vakil is nothing if not self-aware.

And this self-awareness is one of the things that ensures One Day isn’t an instance of the navel-gazing which Jocelyn can’t stand. A marriage is condensed into 24 hours, the space not quite of a page, but of 24 intense chapters; and Vakil tells his story well. If one of the purposes of fiction is to make readers feel sympathy for people they otherwise wouldn’t, ‘whingeing double-income liberal parents’ are as good a subject as any. We are admitted, unprejudicially, to the minutiae of Ben and Priya’s lives, internal and external. They are represented as neither more nor less than they are, neither sneered at nor admired, and it is greatly to Vakil’s credit that this is so. Though Jocelyn’s taste isn’t to be entirely trusted – her favourite book is a piece of historical nonsense called The Lions of Albion – her instincts with regard to novels about Islington’s middle-classes are, generally, sound. Ben and Priya aren’t easy people to write about; the task is all the harder for appearing to be straightforward, and having been done badly so often.

Their relationship is clearly in difficulty. The difference in temperament between them, once (and perhaps still) a source of attraction, has come increasingly to cause friction. This difference is first illustrated in their opposing approaches to money. His way has always been to live within his means: ‘That’s how he had been brought up.’ She has several bank accounts, and is permanently in the red in some of them while saving in others, occasionally drawing on her savings to shore up an ever increasing overdraft. ‘She accused him of being petty, he accused her of being wasteful.’ He’s tidy, she’s messy; he’s buttoned-up, she’s effusive and impulsive. She has been unfaithful to him; he fancies and fantasises about a colleague, Helen, who appears to reciprocate his desires, but they have never acted on them. Priya isn’t blind to Ben’s infatuation, and tells him during an argument that he might as well have slept with Helen, asking him (rhetorically) what the difference is ‘between my infidelity and your days and nights of head-fucking’. As the novel progresses, it becomes clear that she is capable of self-restraint, as he is of violent outbursts and histrionic gestures. The apparent differences between them dissolve, and new similarities and differences are precipitated, as it emerges that what is essential to their relationship, and to each of them, is what they share. This manages not to be as sentimental as it sounds, because there is real emotional violence here – as much hate as love, and they aren’t always easy to distinguish – expressed in caustically effective language.

The writing doesn’t work so well when it moves too far from style zéro; on the rare occasions that it drifts away from Ben and Priya, it has a tendency to waft into lyrical flights of abstraction. Ungrounded in specificity, it can become portentous:

It is good for any city, as it is for any man, to empty itself, to return to its bed, to contemplate its dark places, what it was that brought it – a huddle of wood and stone dwellings in a bend of the Thames – flickering into consciousness. How vast have been its accumulations, its consuming fires and how wide the arc of influence, the reach and return of its rippling waters, redirected, and swollen with corporeal detritus.

This feels too much like talent for its own sake. An acknowledgment that London, and indeed the world, is somewhat bigger than Ben and Priya’s marriage – a sense of perspective, in other words – is vital to their story; that they are, in the grand scheme of things, insignificant makes them easier to like. It’s also a reminder that perspective is a matter of, well, perspective: their problems look as big to them as anyone else’s do to anyone else. But you get a better impression of them constituting only a tiny part of a big city from the accounts of their separate, working lives, before ‘like mirror images husband and wife return home’: the children in one of Ben’s English classes, working on autobiographical writing; the other people in a Tube carriage with Priya; the programme she is making about the Southall Black Sisters.

Ben’s second book, an ‘East/West cookbook . . . a blend of recipes, history, sociology and anecdote’, is in a rut. He has been working on it, or not, for two years, during which time the idea of fusion cooking has become increasingly widespread and stale: ‘the more he read about it and the more he tasted it the more depressed he became about his own enthusiasm for the subject.’ It may be tempting to see this as representing Vakil’s own difficulty with writing his second book – it’s six years since the publication of his first, Beach Boy, ‘about’ a boy growing up in Bombay, in which food figures prominently – but, more important, it’s symbolic of Ben and Priya’s blocked East/ West marriage. They go to a therapist together, but both of them hold things back. The trauma apparently at the root of their difficulty occurred 11 months previously: Ben found out about Priya’s second infidelity – with one of their closest friends, Leo, nine months before Whacka was born. (That the child’s doubtful, or rather not so doubtful parentage makes Ben love Whacka all the more fiercely is both convincing and touching.)

We get to learn of these events because days do not exist in isolation; to understand what happens on Whacka’s birthday, we have to know what has gone before. Besides which, we are privy to everything that Ben and Priya think, and they think a lot about the past, forever retelling stories to themselves about how their marriage has gone wrong. ‘One day’ doesn’t just mean 24 hours, it’s also a way of beginning a story, what we now say instead of ‘once upon a time’. But as Ben and Priya hunt, consciously or otherwise, for a traumatic moment they can begin to work through, it proves to be elusive, a chimera slipping ever further into the past. Perhaps the turning point wasn’t Ben’s discovery that Priya had slept with Leo and that Whacka might not be his son, but the sex itself. Or what about Priya’s first infidelity, with her colleague Marcus, thought of by Ben as ‘the Camberwell giant’, which caused Ben to throw Priya out of the flat and tidy all her things away? And then there was the time they tried to cook together, ‘one of their first and last joint enterprises in the kitchen’. ‘Priya had finished cooking her daal and was out of the kitchen. Ben sneaked a spoon in her slop and couldn’t help being surprised at how subtle the flavours were. But she had forgotten to add salt. Impulsively, he chucked in a spoonful and ruined the daal’ – and their marriage?

They also fall into the nostalgia trap, remembering the 11 perfect days they spent together when they first met at Oxford: ‘No day after had ever offered more promise.’ Except perhaps for the day before Whacka was born, walking on Primrose Hill with Leo and Jocelyn (Leo’s mother; Priya had lived with them in Camden Town when she first came to London as a student): ‘Inside her, the demon baby was finally still, his head locked in her pelvis. After all those months of kicking and bumping, he was refusing to budge, tucked in for the fight. A person whom she had already started to love and whom she was aching to see. How could there be a happier time of waiting?’

Psychoanalysis is more clearly, and less satisfactorily, evident in the novel’s interest in dreams. Whacka, asleep, is well described: he ‘yelps his name . . . grumbles and snorts, rubs his nose with the backs of his fingers, makes slurping sounds on an imaginary teat and returns to his frothy breathing.’ His dreams are ‘impenetrable, unreadable, untellable’. His parents’, by contrast, though they are suitably surreal in their details, are all too tellable, their narratives too implausibly coherent. They read as if they have been preinterpreted, or constructed in order to make a point, which isn’t quite how dreams work, even if we’d often like them to. This is a bigger problem with Ben’s dream – about a cooking competition between two Indian brothers, whose names are Anil and Sunil, which takes place on a tennis court and culminates in one of them making a grotesquely elaborate suicide attempt – than with Priya’s more straightforward nightmare about losing Whacka.

As the Ides of March, and the novel, are brought expertly to their catastrophe, Priya and Ben at last, in fury, come to tell each other the truth, or at least some truths about how they feel. Ben hastily packs a bag and prepares to leave. The scene, like the novel as a whole, is so well constructed that I not only had no idea whether he would stay or go, but cared very much that he should do the right thing. By the time midnight strikes, a resolution of sorts has been reached, but we should by now be wary of seeing it as final, of the idea that this one day was when everything changed. ‘One day’ can also signify an unspecified time in the future, a day that is always yet to come: one day, everything will be resolved. In the meantime, we make do by making stories.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.