The Alchemy of Desire

by Tarun Tejpal | Literature & Fiction |
ISBN: 0330435558 Global Overview for this book
Registered by Heaven-Ali of Birmingham, West Midlands United Kingdom on 2/3/2006
Buy from one of these Booksellers: | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon DE | Amazon FR | Amazon IT |
This book is in the wild! This Book is Currently in the Wild!
16 journalers for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by Heaven-Ali from Birmingham, West Midlands United Kingdom on Friday, February 03, 2006
Joins all the others on mnt TBR.

Set against the brilliantly drawn backdrop of India at the turn of the millennium, The Alchemy of Desire tells the story of a young couple, penniless but gloriously in love. Obsessed with each other, they move from a small town to the big city, where the man, who dreams of being a writer, works feverishly on a novel, stopping only to feed his ceaseless desire for his beautiful wife. After receiving a small inheritance, the lovers abandon the city for a mist-shrouded spur of the lower Himalayas, and move into a sprawling old house which they hope will embody their love. At first they pursue their deep physical need with a reckless intensity. But during renovations of the house, a set of diaries written by the previous inhabitant -- a glamorous American adventuress -- is unearthed, and the narrator finds himself irresistibly drawn away from his wife, and thrust into another world and time, into the hole of history. Increasingly infatuated with the other woman, he slowly begins to uncover the dark secrets at the heart of her story, until the shocking truth is laid bare, and all certainties are overturned. Quick-paced and inventive, brimming with ideas and memorable characters, The Alchemy of Desire celebrates the chaotic spirit of a country during a time of great change. It also offers, in searing, lucid prose, a deeply sensual and moving account of the complex chemistry between sex, ambition and love. This is a major novel by one of the most significant new voices of his generation.

Overall I have enjoyed this book, although at times it got a bit heavy. Looking back over the book, I appreciate its subtelties. The story of the narrator and his wife takes up a large part of the book, which allows the reader a real insight into their relationship, and what drives it, but at times it gets a bit samey. In fact I probably enjoyed the last two hundred pages more than the previous three hundred, the story of Catherine was fascinating and fast moving. It is a beautifully written book, with some lovely imagery, that will stay with me. This is an author I'll be looking out for again. I'd be interested to know what others think, so I may start a ring.

ring list

Twynnie - UK (anywhere)
cestmoi - US (Int. surface mail)
Okyrhoe - Greece(anywhere)
cross-patch - UK (Uk preferred)
tontowilliams - UK
CaterinnaAnna UK
Lyzzybee - UK (anywhere)
Mallory - (france)(int.) it's here

Back to me

New Ring
molekilby (UK)
Penelopewanders (switzerland)(Eur)
Anadyomene (switzerland) (anywhere)
maggiemo - UK (UK)
Brightspark (UK)(?)
Bokwormy (portugal) (anywhere)
NMReader - US (US)
Rockbird - US

Back to me Heaven-Ali

Journal Entry 2 by Heaven-Ali at to a bookcrosser in sent by mail, A Bookring -- Controlled Releases on Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Released 13 yrs ago (9/13/2006 UTC) at to a bookcrosser in sent by mail, A Bookring -- Controlled Releases



Sending to the first person on the ring today, hope everyone enjoys it.

Journal Entry 3 by Twynnie from Royston, Hertfordshire United Kingdom on Thursday, September 14, 2006
The book arrived today! I also had another bookring in the mail today and I'm reading a bookring book at the moment but I should be able to read this sometime in the next couple of weeks. Thanks very much to Heaven-Ali for sharing, I'm really looking forward to reading this!

Journal Entry 4 by Twynnie from Royston, Hertfordshire United Kingdom on Sunday, October 08, 2006
This is on it's way to cestmoi! I will come back soon and write my thoughts on the book when I have a little more time...

Ok, I have a little time now! I had a hard time getting into this book at first, for the first third or so I really did not get on with the narrator of the story. He (We don't even know his name), is sex obsessed, self-absorbed and he gives up way too easily! He did get easier to like as the story went on, after I started to get a feel for the early relationship between him and Fizz and I did become interested in how it would turn out for them in the end, which I didn't really care about at first. I very much enjoyed Catherine's story and that of Stephen and Rakshas so in the end I did end up liking this book.

Journal Entry 5 by cestmoi from Hamilton, Ontario Canada on Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Arrived today. Oh yes, the cover on this book is much nicer than the one displayed!
Thanks for sharing. This is 2nd in my TBR pile so it should be moving fairly quickly.

This arrived very quickly - wish Canada post were that quick!

Twynnie...what did you think of it?

Journal Entry 6 by cestmoi from Hamilton, Ontario Canada on Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Almost finished, only about 50 pages to go and then will have it in the mail!

Journal Entry 7 by cestmoi from Hamilton, Ontario Canada on Friday, November 17, 2006
I will be sending this on its way tomorrow. Thanks for your patience everyone.

This is an eloquently and sensuously written novel. It was somewhat repetitive through the first 100 or so pages when our nameless narrator goes on and on about his desire for his wife, Fizz. I was starting to feel voyeuristic and then the Catherine story started.

To be honest, I am not sure what the author was trying to tell us by joining the two stories. Each would have stood alone equally well with one only a brief mention in the other, but stop mid-novel and start telling a completely different well..a. novel concept that worked on some degree but left me feeling as if had missed a middle chapter that was meant to join them.

Both Catherine's and the narrator's descent into self imposed madness and exile were frightening in their commoness and simplicity - how close is any one of us to that edge?

Thanks for sharing!

Journal Entry 8 by okyrhoe from Athens - Αθήνα, Attica Greece on Friday, December 08, 2006
Arrived in my p.o. box today. Thanks Heaven-Ali for including me in this bookring, and cestmoi for posting the book to me!

Tarun Tejpal.

Journal Entry 9 by okyrhoe from Athens - Αθήνα, Attica Greece on Thursday, February 01, 2007
I've posted the book to cross-patch in England. I'll be writing my comments on the novel here shortly.

- - - Added Feb. 7 - - -

This is a highly satisfying read. From the vivid details of the history, landscape and the peoples of India to the angst of literary craftmanship experienced by the narrator, the story is, or rather the multiplicity of stories are, captivating.

"I narrated and narrated -living, embellishing, conjuring- and they became the tales of Scheherazade, stories to keep me alive in her life...I knew that more than anyone else it is lovers who need the gift of the story. They need to tell stories to each other continually to keep themselves from disappearing."

I am intrigued by the fact that this is a 'first' novel for Tejpal, for it is a complex narrative. Or shall I conjecture that he had in fact attempted other (unsatisfactory) novels which were destroyed, in the same way that the protagonist offered his inferior manuscripts to the elements (fire, water, etc.) so that the 'first' one would be the 'right' one?

When I skimmed through the novel a second time, I found myself focusing on the running commentary regarding the art of writing. "Write in the third person-with authorial omniscience." "Don't struggle to be plausible - India is implausible." "Writing is not life. Fizz is."

And this: "I dived into other people's stories and got lost in them; I slowly forgot my own."

This is one of the major themes in the book. Tejpal, if one can identify him with the protagonist/narrator on this point, is obviously well-read; there are countless allusions to J. Joyce, R. Kipling, W. Woolf, H. James, T.S. Eliot, C. Bronte, etc. There is, understandably, an underlying unease with this first novel appearing derivative of these influences. And it explains why the 'writer' focuses on desire. As the 'matter' of life, desire is real and immediate, unscripted, rather than artifice or derivation.

If there is one thing I wish the book had more of, that would be the heart and mind of Fizz. She's the unifying thread in the narrative, she's the focus of the narrator's life, but ultimately she remains silent and unknown to us, the readers...

Journal Entry 10 by wingCross-patchwing from Leicester, Leicestershire United Kingdom on Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Arrived today with a beautiful card from Okyrhoe. Thank you. And a big thank you to Heaven-Ali for sharing the book.

Journal Entry 11 by wingCross-patchwing from Leicester, Leicestershire United Kingdom on Sunday, March 18, 2007
This is certainly not an easy read! The narrator is so difficult to like, but that is not necessarily needed in a novel. The difficulty for me was that I needed to feel sympathy for him to be able to concentrate on the self-absorbed first third of the book - so my mind wandered and I found it hard to return to it night after night (reading in bed)! But, there was such beautiful imagery and the prose made me catch my breath at times so that I came to forgive and grow to revel in Tejpal's version of India. It came alive for me with the introduction of the Grandmother's life and of course Catherine and the cast of characters in her story. Difficult but so glad I didn't give up.
Hopefully going on to tontowilliams tomorrow or Tuesday.

Journal Entry 12 by tontowilliams from Fareham, Hampshire United Kingdom on Saturday, March 24, 2007
Received safely from Crosspatch. Have already started as arrived "between books", am enjoying so far, but haven't read much yet.

Journal Entry 13 by tontowilliams from Fareham, Hampshire United Kingdom on Sunday, April 01, 2007
I had mixed feelings about this book from the story point of view. It is well written but sometimes I found it difficult to follow with the switching of characters and times. It also lagged a little towards the end, and I don't think it had the best ending, although it was perhaps the only one it could of had. Overall I enjoyed it and perhaps it is a book I ought to read again sometime just to see if there is more to it.

Have emailed Caterinnanna for her address to send on.

Journal Entry 14 by Caterinaanna from Coventry, West Midlands United Kingdom on Tuesday, April 03, 2007
Recieved this morning from tontowilliams with a nice lilac clematis postcard. Thank you very much.

Journal Entry 15 by Caterinaanna from Coventry, West Midlands United Kingdom on Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Finished over a week ago, but busy busy busy & now holding up the ring!
Someone please PM me to remind me to do a proper JE!!

Released 12 yrs ago (5/1/2007 UTC) at book ring in Mailed to fellow bookcrosser, Postal Release -- Controlled Releases



Going in the post to LyzeeBee this morning.

Journal Entry 17 by LyzzyBee from Birmingham, West Midlands United Kingdom on Thursday, May 03, 2007
Received in the post today. Somehow I thought it was a *small* book...!

Still, I know I read fast and I also happen to know Mallary, who's next, has a few of my bookrings, so I won't be in too much of a rush to send it!

This will be next but one on the BookRing Pile.

Journal Entry 18 by LyzzyBee from Birmingham, West Midlands United Kingdom on Monday, May 14, 2007
I'm sorry - I keep picking this up because it's a bookring... and then putting it down because I just don't fancy reading it!

I'm going to PM Mallary for her address, which I oddly don't seem to have, and get this moving on.

Thanks for adding me anyway!


Posting to Mallary today.

Journal Entry 20 by Mallary from Ginestas, Languedoc-Roussillon France on Monday, June 11, 2007
Arrived on Saturday whilst I was ill in bed and although I have greedily read almost two Transitas over the weekend, I haven't got round to starting this just yet. But I've nearly finished Uphill All The Way and then I will.
Thanks for sending it!

Journal Entry 21 by Mallary from Ginestas, Languedoc-Roussillon France on Wednesday, July 04, 2007
I really enjoyed this book even though I found it hard work to read.
The story seemed to veer from desperately boring to incredibly exciting and so I felt unable to put it down in case something happened! I found the ending to be slightly disappointing but overall I'm glad I read it.
Many thanks for sharing it.
On it's way home now to Heaven-Ali.

Journal Entry 22 by Heaven-Ali from Birmingham, West Midlands United Kingdom on Friday, July 27, 2007
It has arrived home and will travelling again soon. Thank you everyone for taking part.

participants so far: brackets show posting pref.

molekilby (UK)(anywhere)
Penelopewanders (switzerland)(Eur)
Anadyomene (switzerland) (anywhere)
maggiemo (UK) (UK)
Brightspark - (UK)
Bokwormy (portugal) (anywhere(?)
NMReader - US (US)
Rockbird - US (?)

Back to me Heaven-Ali (UK)

Released 12 yrs ago (8/9/2007 UTC) at to a bookcrosser in sent by mail, A Bookring -- Controlled Releases



Off to Molkilby - enjoy.

Journal Entry 24 by molekilby from Brithdir, Wales United Kingdom on Friday, August 10, 2007
Received today, thanks Heaven-Ali for sending and sharing. have one more book to read before I start on this.

Journal Entry 25 by molekilby from Brithdir, Wales United Kingdom on Tuesday, August 21, 2007
I chose to read this book because I wanted a comparison to 'The Namesake' by Jhumpa Lahiri. I've also found I've read several Indian themed books this year, thanks mainly to the Birmingham BC people. Although I fisinshed it, I found this a little bit like hard work. The first half didn't spark apart from speaking about his grandmother. The second half was much better. There seemed to be lots of lists when the narrator was speaking, long lists which I wasn't fussed for.

So what did I like it was interesting how they weaved in the history of India, which allowed me to follow this up with some topical TV and radio. It also showed the change in attitudes and beliefs of the modern Indian native.

It also mentions being in Brighton when it rained for two days, (probably there the same time as me). This book does allow me to tick 'T' off my 2007 Author A-Z Challenge, thanks Heaven-Ali. I will send this along as soon as I have an address.

Posted 3rd September 2007.

Journal Entry 26 by wingpenelopewanderswing from Hasliberg, Bern / Berne Switzerland on Wednesday, September 12, 2007
This book arrived safely in the Alps today... I love the card, Molekilby, thanks! (Just taped it above my desk in the office...)
As fate would have it, I have a very heavy work-load just now, and about three bookring books on the runway in front of this one (Molekilby's card has a plane on it, potentially ready for take-off). So it may be 2-3 weeks before I'm ready to send this on - or is it back to you, Heaven-Ali?
Thanks so much for including me in this ring, and for sending it on.
Just wanted to say that I realize this has been with me for a while now... sorry, but at times it's been a bit slow-going. I feel now that I've emerged from the underbrush and am finally really getting into this story. I'm PMing the next in line as I hope to finish it this weekend.

Journal Entry 27 by wingpenelopewanderswing from Hasliberg, Bern / Berne Switzerland on Saturday, October 13, 2007
Ah, finally.
It's been a while since it's taken me so long to get through a book, and I have to confess occasionally I would cheat and read another on the side to lighten things. I hadn't read the other journal entries (wary of spoilers), but having read them now I agree with many of the other readers. The first two thirds of the book were at times stiflingly hard work, I was irritated and often bored by the self-absorption of the narrator, irked by his constant hinting "in light of what happened later" ... more than once I found myself thinking, all right already, out with it! The endless lists made me think of authors paid by the word, and at times the atmosphere seemed so thick and dire I simply needed a break (hence the occasional side-trips to other books). His endless descriptions of sex with Fizz lost all their fizz for me, and felt like just so much rubbing... As someone else mentioned, Fizz remained very shadowy and the novel would surely have gained by having her character more solidly present - other than solely as a vessel for the narrator's desire or lack thereof.
Certain scenes, such as the epic move in the old bus with the two drivers, or the description of the trip into the mountains, with the railway crossings, were wonderfully evocative and I enjoyed them very much. (As I child I lived in that part of the world and was vividly reminded of those railway crossing experiences - although as a child they were more frightening - I remember feeling totally trapped in that unmoving sea of people and vehicles.)
Then, all of a sudden, when the author began relating the story of Catherine, the novel took off for me. I appreciated the parallels in the relationships, and was captivated by that entire section of the book. When the narration returned to the present and the first person, I was finally moved by the narrator who had left me cold during the whole first part.
I'm very glad to have read this book, even if it felt like very hard work for a good bit of it. Friends asked me why I was bothering, but I feel that if someone has made the effort to send a ring to me, the least I can do is give it a fair try. I have received the address of the next in the list and hope to send it off at the beginning of the week. Thank you so much for including me in the ring, and again, I apologize for keeping the book so long.


This is now on its way down the Alps to Basel. Thanks again for making it available...

Journal Entry 29 by zoion from Basel, Basel-Stadt Switzerland on Friday, October 19, 2007
The book arrived today (thank you!) and will be tackled as soon as I have read the last 100 pages of Harry Potter. Shouldn't take too long. ;-)
Started today and read the first 50 pages. Unlike many readers in this ring, I found the first chapter luring and extraordinarily well written. I am looking forward to a real treat. (24.10.07)
Tarun J Tejpal: The Alchemy of Desire a very personal opinion
FIRST of all I want to thank Heaven-Ali for sharing this novel. It was a discovery for me and I enjoyed it very much. I had not heard of Tarun J. Tejpal before, but he has certainly put India on my literary map with this book. It was overall a dazzling reading, mainly due to the beautiful language and style, but it has its weaknesses where the plot is concerned. Plus and minus as follows:
- I don’t fancy books featuring a writer in a leading role. The inevitable agonizing about the arduous process of writing is tiresome to me. If I go to a restaurant, I want to enjoy a good meal. I don’t want the cook on the chair opposite telling me how he hates peeling onions. Likewise I am not fond of sharing an authors struggle with his task, even refined via an arty character.
- The story-in-a-story technique was irritating to me. Over the first three books I got increasingly curious about the contents of these diaries unearthed. The theme is very cleverly induced, the secret tangible, the effects on the narrator visible from the first pages. But then Tejpal plonks Catherine’s story like a monolith in the middle of his narrative without effort to weave it into the main storyline. Thus I lost the characters of the first story out of my sight and rather grudgingly returned to them in the last book. It is understood that the fourth book, Kama, is the novel that the nameless narrator tried to write for years. We are introduced at length to the process of unsuccessful writing in the first three books and are then faced with the ready result of a successful try without comment.
+ Now to the erotic content of the stories, one of the main themes of the novel. Tejpal handles the erotic narrative in a masterful way. The action may be repetitive, but his phrasing never is. And that, in my opinion, is a feat. He beautifully framed the whole book with one question: what keeps couples coupled, lovers beloved? Is it the need of the body or the need of the soul? Is attraction a blind force or a refined choice?
+ Characters and setting likewise are beautifully elaborated and conjured some lasting images in my mind. Even though I don’t know much about India (I had to keep my atlas and “Harenbergs Staatenlexikon” close by) I felt embraced by the colourful narrative. One curious exception, as other readers have pointed out before, is the character of Fiza, the wife. She definitely lacks depth, existing merely as a beautiful foil to the erotic needs of her husband. Compared to the intricately outlined “lesser characters” she has no ideas, no secrets, no life of her own, which is odd.
- One of the quoted reviews on the book states: “Tejpal explores women’s desire with rare intelligence and sensitivity.” I disagree completely. While the book endeavours to be a treatise on desire it stays a text on male desire. For example the whole question of pregnancy and contraception, inevitably part of the female sexuality, is not broached. Plausible perhaps in a settled relationship in the year 2000, but surely not in Catherine’s case at the beginning of the 20th century. Catherine lives a male sexuality. Pleasure is the goal and reproduction is no issue. One is lead to believe that she probably is infertile. In that light, the lost daughter plot at the end of the book seems a highly contrived effort to link the two story layers.
+++ The greatest quality of this book is its language. From the first sentence to the last I was beguiled by the gripping narrative, the beautifully simple wording of elaborated thought, poetic dialogues and lively descriptions. It is this elegance of style that makes the book thoroughly enjoyable. And yes, I even liked the “endless lists”. A bird is a bird. Sex is sex. But if you look closer, you will find almost endless variation in both. The whole book revolves around the idea of repetition and variation. This is mirrored in the language itself. I think it’s brilliant.

sent on today (02.11.2007)

Journal Entry 30 by maggiemo on Sunday, November 11, 2007
Received on Friday. Thank you anadyomene. Just finishing another bookring then this is next on the list

Journal Entry 31 by maggiemo on Tuesday, December 04, 2007
I can't get into this right now. I don't want to stall the ring so I am sending it on.Sorry for the delay . Sent to Bokwormy on Wed

Journal Entry 32 by BOKWORMY on Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Thanks maggiemo for posting it over & thank-YOU Heaven-Ali for sharing it with me!

This is a nice thick one, I hope to be quick.

Journal Entry 33 by BOKWORMY on Thursday, February 28, 2008
Not my usual type of book. I found it difficult to get into as well as difficult to follow. A book I certainly wouldn’t read again!

PMing next person on the list!

17/03 - PMed NMReader again for addy!
10/04 - PMed NMReader once again since I haven´t had reply to previous PM!

Journal Entry 34 by BOKWORMY at on Friday, April 11, 2008

Released 11 yrs ago (4/11/2008 UTC) at



On the way to NMReader in the US!

Journal Entry 35 by NMReader from Herndon, Virginia USA on Wednesday, May 07, 2008
It has arrived

Released 11 yrs ago (7/15/2008 UTC) at Post Office in by mail, a fellow bookcrosser -- Controlled Releases



Headed to see Rockbird. Didn't make it to PO until 7/20/08.

Confirmation Delivery #: 0308 0070 0000 7605 5988

Label/Receipt Number: 0308 0070 0000 7605 5988
Status: Delivered

Your item was delivered at 11:10 AM on July 25, 2008 in MISSION VIEJO, CA 92692.

Journal Entry 37 by NMReader from Herndon, Virginia USA on Monday, July 14, 2008
As much as I want to read this book I have had it far too long and am sending it on its way to Rockbird. I am so sorry that I delayed this book on its journey.

Thank you for including me.

Journal Entry 38 by lostbookisland on Saturday, November 08, 2008
This book has washed ashore at the Lost Book Island after not being heard from for many months. This new arrival will be shown to a room and be allowed a bit of rest before being introduced to the many fun things to do here at the island.

All around there are books sipping cool drinks under shady palms while other books participate in a wide variety of beach sports. There is plenty of sand, surf and sun here for all of the lost and wayward books to enjoy.

It is hoped that very soon a new journal entry will come to rescue this book from the island and send it back out into the BookCrossing world so that it may continue on its journey. It is hoped that the new journal entry will tell all the interested parties where this book has been this long time and where it will be traveling to next.

Are you sure you want to delete this item? It cannot be undone.