Thursday 29 September 2016
facebook.com/Outlookindia twitter.com/outlookindia digimag.outlookindia.com instagram.com/outlookindia youtube.com/user/OutlookMagazine

The Beliefs That Never Were

Manu Joseph’s second novel has established him as a sui generis voice in Indian fiction.
The Illicit Happiness Of Other People
By Manu Joseph
Fourth Estate | Pages: 352 | Rs. 499

How far can a suicide investigation go? If the suicide is the brilliant and beautiful seventeen-year-old cartoonist Unni Chacko, given to spooky explorations into human frailties and the nature of reality, then the investigation can take you on a metaphysical rollercoaster ride, carrying your verities slowly up the hump, then bringing them screaming down the other side. If the investigator is Ousep Chacko, a failed genius of Malayalam literature, a journalist and an alcoholic whose wife is not completely sane, then the same investigation can take you on a coruscating spin through a gendered world that destroys both men and women. A page-turner with a wide range of concerns structured around a suicide investigation, Manu Joseph’s second novel, The Illicit Happiness of Other People, has established him as a sui generis voice in Indian fiction.

Advertisement

The book begins three years after the suicide, when Ousep Chacko discovers a previously unseen comic his son finished the day he died. In the process of asking a question that he might have been better leaving alone—why did Unni do it?—Ousep meets and talks to several young men, ranging from those who have aced entrance exams to those who have failed them, with the most significant detours involving those who have, like Unni himself, decided to have nothing to do with them. As these young men slowly lay bare the world of Unni’s bizarre and unsettling theories about the nature of reality, the mind, human cruelty and nature itself, we are confronted by a politically unsettling view disguised as a story of teen angst gone out of control. The author puts those who are happy to live within ideology on notice with the idea that a belief that can be shared is a delusion because “the truth is not consistent, it changes from brain to brain”. In fact, the signal contribution of this work is that it flags mindless consensus as a danger to our species, and lives its beliefs by staying clear of political correctness.

Advertisement
The main contribution of the book is that it flags mindless consensus as a danger. But there’re too many clever one-liners early on.

The register is caustic and unforgiving, reminiscent of Naipaul. Like Naipaul, Joseph is unafraid to speak in a tone that may be thought of as misanthropic, a diagnosis that is borne out by Ousep Chacko when he says: “It is the misanthrope alone who has clarity.” Despite being a novelist who completely rejects this view in my own practice, I can see that Joseph has followed his guiding principle to produce a deeply sympathetic and intellectually challenging work. We are lucky to have a writer like Joseph, who speaks the bitter truth, who attacks sexism on his own terms despite being attacked for being sexist when his first book came out.

A major weakness of this book is that it is unable to bring its two major themes—the sociological concerns around gender and the philosophical concerns about the nature of reality and perception—into any significant conversation. Another problem is that there are too many clever one-liners in the first hundred pages. It is not the kind of wishy-washy work that requires pointless linguistic muscle-flexing to make its claim. It would have been more consistently weighty without that kind of prose. But that is a minor quibble. This book is absorbing, its canvas is rich, it has a haunting quality. It is, in a word, important.

READ MORE IN:
Parvati In Darlinghurst Bibliofile
Download the Outlook ​Magazines App. Six magazines, wherever you go! Play Store and App Store

Post a Comment

You are not logged in, please Log in or Register
  • Daily Mail
THE LATEST ISSUE
CLICK IMAGE FOR CONTENTS
REVIEW
Review
Except for the excellent profiles, rehashed articles don’t serve Guha well
MAGAZINE September 21, 2016
Book Extract
The Honey Bee network gathers lessons in creativity from the grassroots
MAGAZINE September 21, 2016
Review
All the start-up entrepreneurs featured in the book have amazing stories to tell—of struggle, of peer pressure and of intrigue.
MAGAZINE September 15, 2016
Review
A compilation of the events that led to the 2013 IPL batting-fixing scandal and its consequences
MAGAZINE September 15, 2016
Review
Alexievich’s visceral first-person accounts from the last days of the USSR are saturated with anger, longing and hope
MAGAZINE September 15, 2016
read more>>>
OUTLOOK ON TWITTER
POLLS

More than a decade after India first started the procurement process, it has finally inked an €8bn agreement to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets from France’s Dassault. The original deal was to buy 126 Rafales to replace the accident-prone Russian MiG-21s. Ultimately, the government offered to buy only 36 ready-to-fly planes.

POLL STARTED ON: Sep 26, 2016
Quiz
Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro is hosting the 31st Olympic Games from August 5 to 21. This is the first Olympics being held in South America and is going on even as a majority Brazilians are unhappy with their rulers. Here’s a quiz on some random Olympic facts and related trivia.
QUIZ STARTED ON: Aug 11, 2016
Advertisement