Manu Joseph, The Illicit Happiness of Other People (2012)
In 1990s Madras, journalist Ousep Chacko spends his days trying to find out what caused his teenage son Unni to commit suicide three years ago.
Jamie Crook is the latest recipient of the Luke Bitmead Bursary for unpublished writers, which leads to a publishing contract with Legend Press; so here’s his winning novel, Sleeping Patterns. It’s presented as a set of story-fragments sent by a character named ‘Jamie Crook’ (deceased in the book’s present) to Annelie Strandli. The fragments tell of how Jamie and Annelie came to know each other as students, as well as a third student named Berry Walker. Annelie found herself drawn to Berry, an aspiring writer; but finding a hidden manuscript of his made her reconsider what she thought she knew.
Sleeping Patterns is a novel of piecing together the truth, on several levels. Just as Annelie constructs an image of Berry from the pieces of his manuscript, so the reader has to construct what happens in Crook’s novel from the textual fragments presented out of chronological order. There are hints in each layer of narrative that what we’re reading has been shaped for some other purpose, and secrets to uncover to the very end. That mystery keeps one reading, but Sleeping Patterns also gives cause to reflect on how far we can really know people, no matter how well we think we do. This is an intriguing start to Crook’s career, and it’ll be interesting to see what he writes next.