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A Book About Death


G.J.V. Prasad

THE ILLICIT HAPPINESS OF OTHER PEOPLE: A NOVEL
By Manu Joseph
Fourth Estate, New Delhi, 2012, pp. 343, Rs. 499.00

VOLUME XXXVII NUMBER 7 July 2013

There are times, usually of media hype, when I don’t read a new novel that I would otherwise have read. Then there are novels I don’t read immediately because I am told by friends that I am certain to like them. Sometimes, the novels remain unread and I regret not having read some of them earlier when I do come across them again. I must confess that I didn’t read Manu Joseph’s first novel for this reason as also the fact that many reviewers wrote as if they had insider information on the man and his concerns. Not hype, but an irritating kind of shared knowledge—this is Manu Joseph and we have always known him. This is how he is, and he is brilliant.   So when the editors of The Book Review asked me if I would like to review his second novel, I said yes, because I hadn’t read about it and I wanted to know what Manu Joseph was about. I still have not read his first novel (Serious Men, 2010) a fact I already regret! Because, even though I don’t know Manu Joseph, and I don’t know what kind of person he is, I can say safely that he is a brilliant writer. This novel is a great read for many reasons, most of all for feeling so true. Then, for creating characters you not only recognize but want to know more about. Then, for creating characters you want to look out for, who sound vaguely familiar, and then for creating a story line that forces you to read the book in one sitting if possible. This in spite of the fact that this is a book about death, a book that cogitates on the meaning of life, a book that follows two quests for truth, a philosophical book about psychology, a book about what families do to themselves, about what people do to each other, about suppression, repression, depression, violence, about delusions, about failure, and about the inevitability of happiness. All this and this is a whodunit, rather a whydunit and you are kept in suspense almost till the very end. And you say of course, I wonder if it undercuts anything that had gone on before, sigh, and wait for this talented writer’s next book.   The book centres on a Malayali family in Madras of 1990. An alcoholic ...


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