Book Review: The Town that Laughed by Manu Bhattathiri

Book Name: The Town that Laughed

Author: Manu Bhattathiri

Publisher: Aleph

Genre: Fiction

Rating: 5/5

Book Blurb: Change is coming to the tranquil town of Karuthupuzha, nestled deep within the lush Kerala countryside. The mighty black river, after which the town is named, is now no more than a trickle. People have begun to listen to weather forecasts on the radio rather than looking out of the window to see if it’s going to rain. The jackfruit tree in the middle of town has suddenly started fruiting. And, most seismic of all, Paachu Yemaan, the Inspector of Police, who has terrorized the town for decades has retired. Desperate to find him something to do, his wife, Sharada, and the good-hearted Barber Sureshan decide that ex-Inspector Paachu’s post retirement project will be the reforming of the town drunk, Joby. What the two good Samaritans haven’t counted on is the chain of extraordinary events that their project is about to set in motion.

Review: Manu Bhattathiri’s brilliant debut work, ‘The Town That Laughed’ is a unique and befitting tribute to ordinary tales. I always say that ordinary tales are the most extraordinary and what better setting than a nondescript place called Karuthupuzha?

Each character has been painted brilliantly and the novel reads very much like the work of a masterclass artist at work- painting and dabbling in different colours. It is remarkable that a debut author has managed to catch the finer details of a small Indian town in so much depth. There is the drunkard Joby who gains prominence in the work later on, the retired police official Paachu and his household, and many other peripheral characters- almost all kinds of characters that you would encounter in any such town.

Sample this for an example of the author’s keen eye for observation:

“In fact, he had generous hair growth everywhere except on his head. The few strands of hair he had left were plastered across his scalp in a vain attempt to cover his baldness. At the very summit of Paachu Yemaan’s hairless pate a grotesque tuft had suddenly begun to sprout, around the time of his retirement.”

The novel is about change but could have been easily about any other place and the story will still hold good. The characters are brilliant caricatures that we may encounter in any town and have to deal with their own trials and tribulations. Their problems are plenty but small and like every other town, once in a while there is some tragic event which sort of terminates this story in style. Its full of sarcasm, its ordinary but has enough to keep your interest alive and there is never a harrowing moment in the novel.

The tale appears ordinary at first (and it is definitely) but the town of Karuthupuzha has some secrets and please don’t go by the cover of the book as it is misleading. Perhaps the best way to categorise this book is to call it a dark comedy for that is what it is.

I don’t want to give out the plot otherwise nobody will buy the book but go read it.You won’t regret it. We don’t recommend many novels these days and don’t really want to praise many authors (most of them are below average) but Manu has risen to the occasion.

The author’s language skills are extraordinary; this is a writer who will go very far if he keeps writing. These are the kind of stories that need to be told, and books like these will take the subcontinent’s literary movement forward. Only someone who has actually lived in a south Indian town for some years and carried out first hand research can pen such a tale. Great stories are not born from scratch but from good research which is why any good author cannot publish more than a book an year.

Now go read!

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