Review: The Untitled by Gayathri Prabhu

Historical research is the true hero of this book, which fails to follow up promising narrative threads

The Untitled is a book that harks back to the novels of the 20th century, an era when literary enterprises comfortably contained orphans, fortune-seeking travellers, spies, political intrigue, love and betrayal, all jostling for space in a single narrative. Gayathri Prabhu stitches these elements together with a politics that is sympathetic, as the title obliquely conveys, to those whom typical histories would leave out. The story’s central protagonists are unusual choices — a ragged English portraitist, a laconic young Brahmin whose aspirations veer towards art rather than astrology, and an adopted daughter of a temple priest whose intelligence places her at the centre of both a love triangle and the machinations of the royal court.

But the author’s historical research is the real hero of the book. (The jacket mentions research done at the National Archive in Delhi and the British Library in London.) The details she collected allow her to effectively harness the inherent drama and romance surrounding the end of an empire — Tipu Sultan’s last stand against the rampaging British East India Company at Srirangapatna. Read more