The Immortals by Amit Chaudhuri Picador, HK$221 Amit Chaudhuri is a trained singer in the north Indian classical tradition and he employs the twin facets of his persona as writer-singer in his new novel, The Immortals. The novel revolves around the relationships three characters have with music. Mallika Sengupta is a middle-class housewife who pursues her passion for classical singing when not performing the role of the wife of a senior corporate executive. Her son Nirmalya is an angst-ridden youth who believes in the purity of art and is critical of his mother's seemingly casual attitude. Shyam Lal teaches music to the elite of Mumbai, including Mallika and Nirmalya. When the novel opens Mallika has ambitions of cutting a disc, a task to which she dedicates her mornings to practising with Shyam. Meanwhile, her husband uses his connections to impress a record company head. Nirmalya pores over philosophy books and wanders listlessly around town. A typically ambivalent teenager, he accompanies his mother to her performances, simultaneously proud and critical of her. Shyam, responsible for a sprawling joint family, and attempting to shore his income through teaching, begins to tutor a curious Nirmalya. The Immortals is to an extent a distillation of the author's life. Chaudhuri learned classical music and suffered from a hole in his heart, an ailment Nirmalya has. His mother, much like Mallika, is a classically trained singer. He was born in Calcutta and moved to Mumbai and later Britain to study - as does Nirmalya. That verisimilitude is perhaps why the novel lacks a story. The narrative charts the life of the three main characters, paying great attention to the details of their humdrum daily existence. By the end of the novel, Mallika's husband is forced into premature retirement, Shyam has prospered enough to own a seaside bungalow and has performed abroad, and Nirmalya has jettisoned Indian music to study philosophy at a western school. Unfortunately, the narrative arc is not compelling. Chaudhuri devotes the novel to fine observations, some of which glimmer with keen insight, and he is indeed a fine writer. What comes through in the 400-odd pages are the writer's affection for Mumbai, the passing of a certain way of life and his passion for Indian classical music. However, the understated prose seems too 'English' when used to describe the tradition of north Indian classical music and it is doubtful a western reader will really understand it. Elegant writing does not make up for the lack of action in the novel; the characters neither act nor are they acted upon in any significant way - an essential ingredient for storytelling. Perhaps Chaudhuri is subscribing to the notion of literary fiction that has gained great currency of late: fine writing at the expense of plot.