Before I’d even got started, I resented this book. I’d bought it on a Kindle Daily Deal whim, and then it sat glowering at me from the top of my Kindle’s homepage. I did my best to ignore it, for some reason resistant to reading it, but alphabetical order was not my friend. Eventually, to my great relief, I gave in and read it. Relief because the glowering was no more, and relief because I quite enjoyed it.
The tower of the title is Vishram Society Tower A, a once proudly pink housing development that is now a ‘rain-water stained, fungus-licked grey’. With the slums of Vakola eddying around its feet and planes heading to Mumbai’s airport roaring overhead, Tower A is most decidedly past its best. Which is also true of its residents, such as the chippy social worker Georgina Rego, the snobbish Mrs Puri and (the ‘last man’ himself) retired schoolteacher Masterji . Fearsomely proud of their own respectability and middle class status, the motley group have little but past glories and disdain for each other to cling to. And it is this sense (or lack) of community that is threatened when a ruthless property developer tries to buy them out in order to fulfil his dream of building luxury flats. One by one, the residents accept his offer, until only Masterji is left, queering the deal for everyone with his resistance.
Through the Vishram Society, Adiga presents a bleak picture of modern Mumbai, where economic expansion sees ordinary people suffer. All of the characters are monstrous and sympathetic at the same time, all motivated by greed that could be interpreted as an understandable desire to have their situations improve. The dark humour in the book is at its most stark, and successful as each resident justifies turning on Masterji, their treatment of him degenerating from criticism, to ostracism and ultimately physical assault. The novel poses uncomfortable questions about the tensions between ‘society’ and individualism, and leaves you wondering how you would react if unexpected wealth was within your grasp. Would it bring out the best in you? Last Man in Tower would suggest not.