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The Illicit Happiness of Other People

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  5,231 ratings  ·  672 reviews
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 ar ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published January 7th 2013 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 2012)
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Average rating 4.09  · 
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Archana Sivassubramanian
May 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Sairam Krishnan
Oct 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Unni, what an idiot you turned out to be, thinks Mythili Balasubramaniam, and as the book unfolds to reveal the character of Unni Chacko, we think the same.

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. The story of a dysfunctional Malayali family in 1987 Madras, the novel is unputdownable.

Ousep Chacko carries the story along, and his flawed, disturbed character
Kritika Swarup
Nov 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
The one in search of happiness fades away in the sentiment of shame.
The girl left behind with his dreams struggles to make peace with the event.
The one who wants to unwind the truth refuses the realty.
The one who is the origin of all, the mother, sits back as the moving force for all the events but remains passive herself.

It is about drawing happiness out of the forbidden corners of mental inabilities, camouflaged feelings of sensuality and attempts to draw an acceptable image of unacceptable p
Nov 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: awe-some
I knew it. It couldn't have been just me. There must be others. Others, like me, painted simpletons aggregated within the ambiguous definition by media as "world’s second largest population" who have a story to tell, observations to make and analysis to provide about our ilk. I knew it. I knew it every time I read the uber rich desis educated in foreign colleges living in a developed country somewhere writing about the ‘dust and smell of India’, I knew it when I read depressingly bad quality boo ...more
Reading_ Tam_ Ishly
Aug 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
One of the best Indian contemporary young adult mystery/suspense reads.

A father trying to find the probable answer why his seventeen year old son, Unni, committed suicide after three years of his death when a set of comics being delivered back to their house.

He never seemed to be the one who would commit such an act.

Things he never knew about his son gets revealed, things he never knew about his other 'less smart' son he gets to know, things about the secret past of his wife had to come out an
Oct 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great second novel from the irreverent and stunningly original Manu Joseph. It is set in 1980s Madras and at its center is a Malayali Christian family. The elder son Unni Chacko, a talented graphic novelist has committed suicide at a young age. His father Ouseph is an alcoholic journalist who is relentless in his pursuit of the reason behind his son's suicide. Mariamma, his wife wants him dead even as she desperately runs a household and tries to hold on to her sanity. Thoma the younger son is ...more
A great start to my 2015 Indian Book challenge. This was one book that I relished from beginning to end. It was so different, so eccentric and full of dark humor and satire, with eccentric and individualistic characters. The narration mesmerized me, made me contemplate ( a rare feat), and I almost became a part of the folie a deux. The plot revolves around the suicide of Unni Chacko, a 17 year old precocious thinker, who leaves behind a grieving younger brother Thoma, perhaps the most sane chara ...more
Sep 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Reading this book, Manu Joseph seems at once a discovery and an old friend for Indian writing in English. He has a witty style, adding meticulously observed details that make it unputdownable. But I found that all the characters towards the end had Ousep's or Unni's narrative style, more or less. So, as the extra-ordinary became plausible, the characters themselves started to evaporate into one homogenous personality. This even made me re-think the plot. Maybe there is really only one boy, Unni ...more
Aug 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Gorab by: A Man Called Ove
Shelves: z2016, indian
Rare combination of creative complex ideas entwined within a very simple plot - A curious father trying to unearth the reason for his son's suicide.
"This is how people resolve suicides - by considering it a consequence of unbearable grief or by manufacturing motives. Or through the inordinate importance given to the final note of the dead, which is usually only a confused half-truth."

Take a bow Manu Joseph, for giving us superb characters.... especially Unni Chacko. What a brilliant character in
Em*Greedy* (Iniya)
Mar 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Em*Greedy* (Iniya) by: Gorab
A deeply disturbing book to read.. It is depressing to read about deaths, especially suicides.
This is about Ousep chacko, an alcoholic father, who goes is search of the reason for his son Unni chacko's suicide. in this journey he learns about his seventeen year old son many details which he didn't know when he was alive. Loved unni's cartoons and empathused with thoma, unni's brother..

Parents never really understand their children.. Thats my most important takeaway from this book.

Wonderful writ
Mar 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book made me write my first ever review on Goodreads. The book is about a father's quest to know why his son did what he did. Each character had its own story which was beautifully woven in the plot. Full of dark humor and satire. ...more
Jul 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: humor, india

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.

That was a solid opening to this tale. Couldn't have expected for a better opening. The thing I've realized about Manu Joseph's storytelling: he is exceptionally good at drawing the reader's attention. He belongs to the league of amazing authors who are remarkable at introducing the characters, addin

Oct 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Kru by: Gorab
The first few pages were sort of depressing or too cynical for me and I wasn't sure of my choice. But it was a unputdownable read for me and I completed it with very few breaks, the longest one being at about 94% when I had to force shut my eyes and sleep.

The setting was familiar, the place and the schooling at 90s. It was a nostalgic read bringing back memories of a few drunken neighbours of the likes of Ousep, two suicides, the entrance exam preparations, the political climate of the city the
Illicit Happiness

To me, a good book is always the one that inflicts a change in me. It could be positive, negative or even something which is neutral, but if it changes anything within me, it is good enough. The Illicit Happiness of Other People is a strange book. I know it's a good one, because it definitely changed something inside me. It's difficult to explain what, but I know, after I turned the last page, I was changed.

It's a story about how a father, tries to find a good reason to believe
Nov 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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. I liked this one much better than 'Serious men', as the main characters are deep, intriguing and strong personalities, making you look forward to what they would do next. The novel is set in the southern Indian city of Madras in the late 1980s and has splendidly funny, sharp and perceptive obse ...more
Sep 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: review
I had liked Manu Joseph's "Serious Men" because of many reasons - for the way he'd sketched out even the most 'insignificant' of characters, for the biting humour, for the way he managed to make me accept a near fantastic story for real - to name a few.
In all those respects, I liked his second book even more! It's been a while since a writer made me laugh (yes, LOL) on one page, and then forced me to ponder eternal questions or given me a poignant moment on the very next page! The author's remar
Kevin Tharayil
Sep 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library
Mass delusions. Cartoons. Teenagers at the cusp of adulthood. An investigative father who is also a drunkard journalist. A schizophrenic mother. A day dreaming, timid young boy. A pretty girl next door. Typical curious middle class residents, resigned happily to their humdrum lives. A patriarch in psychiatry. Madras. Syrian Catholics. Kerala.

These key subplots revolve around the whydunnit suicide of a philosphically minded teen cartoonist who is in attitude and behaviour, stronger and wiser than
Jul 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
My God!!!! This was a unique book with unique characters. This is the second book that I read where the protagonist is dead from the start but is the force of the whole story. Each character is natural starting from Ousep, Mariamma Thoma, Mythili, Somen Pillai and all the others too. There are deep delvings into human minds and just shows what a keen observer the author is.
Unni a boy of seventeen has committed suicide and his drunken father and a bit soft in the head mother do not know why. The
Ashish Iyer
Jul 07, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Ashish by: Ninnie Choudhary
This book probably marks the emergence of Manu Joseph as a more confident author who decides that certain plotlines are too mainstream, choosing to say the story the way he wants it. This one is darker, more tragic and will perhaps haunt you for a time. In the author's own words, the worst kind of tragedy is the one that makes you laugh. This one does. As a footnote, may I add that I couldn't identify the appropriateness of the title even after reading the book.
Strange book.
Jan 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Someone give this novel a Man Asian, shortlist it for a Man Booker. This is one of the best Indian novels I have read in recent times. A psychological thriller like none other, it tells the story of charming 17-year old genius cartoonist Unni Chacko, who, one day, jumps to death from his third-floor balcony. It really feels as if he is the protagonist of the book but he is not, because he is dead. And its not even a spoiler. The twist comes later. Some really idiotic review gave it away even bef ...more
Oct 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My first book by Manu Joseph, an author that I had been meaning to start reading since ages. I dived into the book knowing very little of what it's about or its setting; all I had for context was that it's a highly recommended read. This worked well in my favour as it allowed the book to *wow* me by catching me off guard.

The book is essentially some of the finest contemporary Indian writing that I have read, the kind of writing that doesn't try too hard to be beautiful or witty. It tells a story
Parvathi Jayakumar
Apr 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant stuff. The humor is wry, intelligent and incisive. Starts of as a harmless satire, but then turns into this really intense drama that weaves psychiatry, neuroscience and philosophy into its fold.
The characters are all too real. The body language, idiosyncrasies, all the bearings of a typical Malayalee Catholic family (shout-out to my favorite, the endearingly stupid and adorable Thoma Chacko here).
For those of you who have read Sense of an Ending, would feel an uncanny resemblance betw
Hiran Venugopalan
Aug 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lib-home
The book is gripping and exciting like a thriller, yet makes you smile and ROFL at times with the 'very-malayalee' sarcasm and wit that the narrator makes.The way he 'draws' the characters into the mind, even the insignificant, is remarkable. Manu, you are a genius!
( I started reading the book while I was inside train, and completed the book in return trip. Hardly 8 hours. The book is that classic!)
Gayatri Makhijani
Nov 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
You remember some Sundays in, because someone significant has died, and the city you live in, is at a standstill.

You curl up with Manu Joseph's The Illicit Happiness of Other People, and you cannot stop until the end.

Your heart breaks for Mariamma.

Your heart angers for Philipoise. And the true and tragic nature of life that allows men like him to thrive.

Your heart yearns for Thoma. And, the sad-happy moments of life that make men out of boys.

Your heart saddens for Ousep.

And, your heart leaps for
Oct 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
First published in Open Road Review (

Manu Joseph’s The Illicit Happiness of Other People, henceforth TIHOOP in this review, often left me smiling and chuckling, and more than quite often, pensive.

TIHOOP, in its second read (immediately after the first, an endeavour I rarely undertake), remained riveting and enriched, lost none of its magical and abiding charms, and as it is with almost every second read, you get a tighter grip on some things which escaped
Sampurna Ray
This is a story surrounding a dysfunctional halfway-atypical hard up Malayali family in late-eighties Madras. The story makes you see everything you've taken for granted in an alien light. The darkness and tragic humour in the book make for a delectable drink that stirs you. It tells you that delusion is contagious (which you always suspected is true) and that happiness is an eventuality we cannot escape (which you think you want to be true). ...more
Jun 05, 2020 rated it it was ok
TW: suicide, mental illness, ableism
Before I started this book I was vaguely under the impression that once upon a time Manu Joseph used to be a sharp and insightful journalist, until he drank the sanghi kool aid and became a full fledged apologist for fascism. Turns out he was always this annoying. If you'd like to skip the rest, read this article by Asim Ali instead, written in response to Joseph's facile piece about the riots in Delhi.

For anyone unfamiliar with indian politics, Manu Joseph c
The book is about a family trying to make sense out of Unni Chacko's (eldest son's) suicide. It is difficult to believe this is in fact the one line story of this dark humor, philosophical weird book. And yet, Manu Joseph, pulls it off in the backdrop of 1990's apartment complex Madras with stereotypes of entrance exam preparing, middle class tamil life.

Ousep Chacko is the disconsolate father who is persistent in his quest for 'truth' not withstanding his dual personality of the sober and the d
Dec 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
Manu Joseph - why is this man not more famous? The chap is an artist, analysing everything in the world with the keen eye of a five-year old and the cynicism of a septuagenarian. Every page contains some astute observation or an interesting take on a mundane everyday topic.

So what if the book meandered unnecessarily and launched into lengthy monologues towards the end?
So what if the lines of thought of the Chacko family did not exactly converge and tie up as I'd hoped they would?
So what if the e
Deepak Rao
Sep 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Exceedingly gripping-The last such experience I had was while reading "Da Vinci Code". This book is a cracker suspense story suffused with amazing wittiness. Manu Joseph is a fantastic storyteller. He peels off numerous layers of the story in such a manner that the reader keeps craving to know more than what is revealed to him and that's what keeps him hitched to the book. Strongly recommended to all serious readers who're looking forward to reading a book to remember for a long time. ...more
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Borrow, lend or exchange this book with readers in your neighborhood 1 20 Mar 04, 2016 07:02AM  
Indian Literature...: Recommended reading 10 87 Apr 10, 2013 04:22AM  
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