Rather than a stream of consciousness, it’s a river riddled with undercurrents.
doesn’t just demand patience; you need to be alert to the subtlest click of Self’s storytelling levers to follow the plot. Zachary Busner is an elderly, retired psychiatrist, roaming around contemporary London and remembering his past.
Shuklaji Street is a gallery of oddities and weirdos — eunuchs, junkies, alcoholics, murderers, intellectuals — all of whom seem strange and surreal.
If you’ve survived till this point, you’ll notice the meandering narrative is strangely compelling.
It takes another 100 pages to get caught up in the memories of the different characters and figure out that the slippery monologues aren’t just Self trying to add a little gravitas to his profile and establish himself as cleverer than you, the reader.
The year before, it was Madeleine whose complaint led to Kitty being put in a mental asylum where they subjected her to electrotherapy. Cracks appear in Isabel’s facade of being the superheroic combination of working woman, mother and wife.
Her husband and daughter both turn to Kitty in their time of need.
Starring prominently in his memories is Audrey Death, who contracted encephalitis lethargica but was misdiagnosed as a mental patient and admitted in 1922.
Audrey, whose surname goes through many mutations, has a wealth of experiences locked inside her twitching body and numbed-by-drugs mind, including childhood memories and working in Woolwich Arsenal during the war.
The politically-correct word for three of the novels in this year’s Man Booker Prize shortlist is “literary”, which translates in plain English to “weird”. This year, the judges clearly wanted readers to remember that literature is not simply timepass, to use a bit of Bombay-speak.
If the reader perseveres with a well-crafted experimental novel, they’re rewarded with a story that’s told with all the flourish of a brilliant magic trick. along with a top hat worth of literary craftiness, there’s the white rabbit of a poignant story.
In 1971, Busner chances upon her and is struck by the idea that it might be possible to wake seemingly catatonic patients like her who were encephalitic rather than psychiatric cases.