Ousep Chacko, according to Mariamma Chacko, is the kind of man who has to be killed at the end of a story. But he knows that she is not very sure about this sometimes, especially in the mornings. He sits at his desk, as usual, studying a large pile of cartoons, trying to solve the only mystery that matters to her”
That’s a solid opening to this tale. Couldn’t have expected for a better opening. This mystery that rattled the Chacko family, soon pulls us along, making this book unputdownable!
Genre: Phycological Thriller.
Published by Harpercollins publisher India in 2012
To buy : Amazon
Plot: A quirky and darkly comic take on domestic life in southern India.The story of a dysfunctional Malayali family in 1987, Madras.
Ousep Chacko, journalist and failed novelist, prides himself on being “the last of the real men.” This includes waking neighbors upon returning late from the pub. His wife Mariamma stretches their money, raises their two boys, and, in her spare time, gleefully fantasizes about Ousep dying. One day, their seemingly happy seventeen-year-old son Unni—an obsessed comic-book artist—falls from the balcony, leaving them to wonder whether it was an accident. Three years later, Ousep receives a package that sends him searching for the answer, hounding his son’s former friends, attending a cartoonists’ meeting, and even accosting a famous neurosurgeon. Meanwhile, younger son Thoma, missing his brother, falls head over heels for the much older girl who befriended them both. Haughty and beautiful, she has her own secrets.
The story, is primarily told from three different point of views: Ousep, Mariamma, Thoma and Mythili, their neighbor. Each of them tries to find a reason to why Unni killed himself. They each have something to hide, and each of them tries their best to keep it hidden. What starts a desperate attempt for Ousep turns into a whole new revelation and along the investigation, as he talks to various friends and acquaintances related to Unni, he began to see his son in a whole new light.
Ousep Chacko carries the story along, and his flawed, disturbed character is absolutely mesmerizing. But the figure that matters the most, of course, is Unni, and his presence in the book, though only physical when memories are being shared, is almost magical. All the characters look at life through him – before him and after him. And the ideas that the author throws around are amazing, schizophrenia, good vs evil, revenge, shame, guilt, every human emotion is tackled at least once. Ousep Chacko encounters an intrepid group of cartoonists, a neuroscientist, a silent nun, a corpse, and a whole host of other idiosyncratic characters who sound as though they may have stepped out of a Wes Anderson movie but are, in Joseph’s hands, perfectly reasonable everyday individuals. How the author managed to weave it all in, I have no clue, but he did, and so well.
The setting is almost as important. Manu Joseph lashes out at Madras in searing prose, taking his anger out on the great city and its remarkable stupidities in a way I will remember for some time. Not only does Madras come alive, it hangs its head in shame. The author makes sure of it.
Manu Joseph’s first novel, ‘Serious Men‘ was a satirical one on India’s elite scientific institutions. Just a year later, he has come up with this second one, which is an absorbing psychological thriller. Manu Joseph has written a spectacular novel, one of those things that stay in your head years after you read it, and splinters from which you will use in conversation decades later. He writes with extraordinary wit, cunning and sympathy about both family relationships and ultimate mysteries.
To describe the book in one word, I would say phenomenal. It talks about happiness and life in a way nobody has ever talked about. It treads the path that is rarely taken. I cannot describe what is the underlying idea behind the book. I would recommended that you read the book. But I can guarantee you one thing: it is not going to disappoint you.
“The world cannot be conned so easily by frauds. Great god-men are great because they really believe they are holy. And all our gods, Ousep, are not lies. They existed. All our gods, from the beginning of time, have been men with psychiatric conditions. And their delusions were so deep, they passed them on. God and believer were then locked in the Folly of Two, they still are.”
These words never left me. Never will..
The Illicit Happiness of Other People—a smart, wry, and poignant novel—teases you with its mystery, philosophy, characters and unlikely love story. A must read.