Journalist-writer Manu Joseph always wanted to write about a person who is the evidence that absolute sanity and clarity are things people cannot really handle and after "developing confidence" he penned The Illicit Happiness of Other People.
"Long before I wrote Serious Men, I wanted to write about a person I used to know in Madras who is the evidence that absolute sanity and clarity are things people claim they aspire to but in fact cannot really handle. They are very dangerous forces. To sustain ourselves, to live everyday we need the comfort of delusions."
"I probably did not have the skills to tell this story when I was young. Also, I used to have an amused contempt for the people around him who were writing their autobiographies couched as novels. When I wrote Serious Men I learnt a bit about how to write a novel and I developed the confidence to write The Illicit," says Joseph, whose first novel Serious Men was shortlisted for the Man Asian Prize 2010.
"Sanity is merely a majority condition," is how he describes The Illicit Happiness of Other People, published by HarperCollins India.
Set in Madras in 1990, The Illicit Happiness of Other People is a darkly comic story involving the relentless pursuit of a failed writer who has found purpose, an adolescent cartoonist's dangerous interpretation of truth, the plots of a brilliant housewife, and the pure love of a 12-year-old boy for a beautiful girl.
Seventeen-year-old Unni Chacko has done something terrible. The only clue to his action lies in a comic strip he has drawn, which has fallen into the hands of his father Ousep, an anarchist. Ousep begins investigating the extraordinary life of his son, blissfully unaware that his long-suffering wife is plotting to kill him.
For Joseph, humour is primarily an expression of uncompromising accuracy.
"I do not believe humour is a conscious process -- and if it is then it will naturally be of a poor quality. I believe that humour is a form of delinquency. That is why it can never be an aspiration -- either you can achieve it naturally, helplessly, or you never can," the editor of the Open newsweekly told PTI.
"There are times when people react to portions of my book or my journalism and say that they found them funny, but there are times when I am confused. I have said this many times before but you tolerate a repetition -- humour is primarily an expression of uncompromising accuracy," he says.
According to Joseph, he has somewhat "matured a lot" after Serious Men.
"In my opinion The Illicit is a better novel. But I was equally pleased with myself after both -- though I don't have the courage to read either of them because I am afraid some portions will shame me."
The Illicit Is a Better Novel: Manu Joseph
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