This book had to come. The favourable aspect is that it comes from a professional author (read: not his first rodeo). It comes at an oFilling the void
This book had to come. The favourable aspect is that it comes from a professional author (read: not his first rodeo). It comes at an opportune time also. The millennials are waking up and looking back, at the good times, of the internet-less 90s, and reminiscing all over the internet about it in gif and jpeg enumerated pages that recollect how better those times were.
While one would be tempted to say this book "caters" to this set of people, one must note that it is precisely the fallacy of this that Manan brings out. "Internet is the puberty of society," as he says. The internet is here to stay, and yes, sex is open and free in the internet. Face it, is Manan's plea.
The Joyceian angle
The writing screams Joyceian influence. It doesn't help that Portrait was a book about a young man too. The SoC that Manan boasts of, tries to be Joyceian, but fails in some parts and succeeds brilliantly in others. Other stylistic similarities exist such as the reservation of the pronoun He to refer only Manan (similar to Dedalus's treatment by Joyce) and Manan's excited immersion in his own senses through his visual imagination and frequent, tangential synesthesia.
Stream of consciousness
Again, Mohit uses a Joyceian SoC rather than a Faulknerian one (thank god for that!). On a scale of fidelity to thought, Faulkner being 10, Joyce coming at 8, Mohit loses on one crucial aspect. The consistent error in his SoC is that Manan is aware of the Gaze, while Dedalus is not (and none of Faulkner's characters were). A reader's Other coincides with Dedalus's Other while there is a blatant rift between these two in Manan. One reason for this is that Mohit leaks into Manan at times: "does he have a loose screw?"(p.23), "Who asks such questions?"(p.46) Here Manan is already aware of the Gaze of the adulthood that looks back at him through the years. This trivializes the impending doom that reaches its crescendo at puberty and falls, tapering off into the banality of adulthood. In this respect, Manan is not so much about Manan, but is about Mohit looking back at Manan, having safely reached the other side, a nostalgic memoir about the past rather than a fear of the future, which is what puberty is all about.
Manan's struggle with the ethics of well-being and the reality of the world is structured for the Indian setting. His worries about deforestation, his flurry of textbook thoughts about the world, his judgemental attitude based on his familial indoctrination is one that only a pre-Internet kid will empathise with. "... he is from commerce stream, he cannot know much...": such instances of indoctrinated judgement is innocent in the truest sense, i.e. Manan is truly ignorant that he is passing judgement at all. This is the innocence that shines in numerous parts of the book, where Manan is unaware of the writer that is writing him, and the effect is splendid.
The 90s or Manan
The trailer of Manan where various people recount their 90s is apt in it that Manan contains a plethora of references to the 90s. Some of them are explained, some left as they are, and they should have all been left unexplained, just as Joyce did. While this might complicate the reading experience, the compromise of explaining things hinders the SoC. Either way, this seems a decision to avoid alienation of readers; here, one can only lament the state of publishing industries and the sale of only easy books. The readers are to blame.
The other side of these frequent 90s references is that it becomes a prosaic game of how many more can I cram making the book less about Manan and more about the 90s. At the cost of recreating the 90s, Manan's character becomes a vessel that subsumes the various quintessential traits of a millennial, thereby loses a chance to create a Holden Caulfield or Bill Denbrough.
Puberty is not about sex
This is Mohit's take on puberty and it is riddled with an over sensitiveness towards sex. While Manan's age seems rather late for such thoughts, rendering his image as immature, this does not matter, since the age is after all a number and to me, Manan seemed more twelve than fifteen. Either way, numbers be damned. It doesn't matter. Manan is at the onset of puberty. A crucial absence is the gradual awareness of the incestual barriers and the Love Laws (as Roy would say) and Mohit only touches upon the latter vaguely in the denouement of the novel. The former is completely absent. Or maybe I'm just a twisted fuck.
Puberty is about sex, yes, but the sexual angle is in the form of these thoughts. As Freud would say, all dreams have sexual meanings, except the sexy ones. Here, Mohit takes a head-on approach in his character development of Manan. If I count the number of times Manan is worried about sex and about his genitals, I'd need five pairs of hands. Let me bring in Holden here: Holden, for all his blabbering and tangential thought processes about sex, was really evading the issues of his sexual molestation and darker thoughts. The overt sexual talks in the book are simply a diversion to the actual sexual innuendos of the book.
In this sense, Manan does not have much behind his thoughts. In fact, his puberty has not even arrived, because he is simply thinking about sex in a casual manner: questionnaire about sex (p.92), ".. don't mean rape here"(p.102), "...they make it complicated..."(p.76), "...extra perfume during menstruation..."(p.50)... these rather casual and direct observations about sex, reducing it to materialistic notions (ironically, considering he says "Material things are supposed to be forgotten." (p.108) Call me a post-structuralist, but I think this book is about the misrecognition of puberty on the part of Manan, or Mohit has once again leaked into Manan, creating grown up thoughts in a pre-pubescent Manan.
A formidable task
The review places Manan at high expectations and might have therefore created falsely, in its various nitpickings, the impression of a shoddy novel. There are few authors who have completely succeeded in portraying adolescence - James Joyce, Willian Golding, J.D. Salinger, Stephen King. The daunting task of recreating adolescence should be evident from the disparate approaches they have taken towards it: Joyce - reverent, romantic and an elevated importance, Golding - cynical, Salinger - sarcastic and immature, King - awe and uncertainty.
While all the above have tackled the phase from before it, Mohit takes on a hopeful, memoir-like approach, looking back at it. The novel is definitely one of the more literary creations in the recent past of Indian publishing and is a must read for the millennials....more