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Mystic Masseur by V S Naipaul

Mystic Masseur (original 1957; edition 2001)

by V S Naipaul

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Title:Mystic Masseur
Authors:V S Naipaul
Info:Picador (2001), Paperback, 208 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Mystic Masseur by V. S. Naipaul (1957)



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'He was to be famous and honoured throughout the South Caribbean', 5 Dec 2014

This review is from: The Mystic Masseur (Paperback)
Didn't enjoy this as much as Naipaul's superb 'A House for Mr Biswas' but it's an entertaining read, following the rise of Ganesh Ramsumair. Set in the Trinidad of the 30s and 40s, Ganesh is a mediocre student and teacher. When he comes home to his father's funeral, he lapses into a life of inactivity...and accumulating books:
"Nine hundred and thirty book. Every book about one inch thick, I suppose."
"Makes about seventy-seven feet."

Life moves on to initial and unsuccessful attempts at writing and massage, before re-inventing himself as a mystic. But his new success causes trouble with his father-in-law, and with a politician via the local press...

There are some very humorous moments:
flatulent aunt, ''The great Belcher" - 'she was so overcome she could only belch and ask for water. She got Coca-Cola. It made her burp between belches and she remained uncommunicative for some time.'

Or Ganesh's later literary efforts: 'Only two months after the publication of 'What God Told Me' Ganesh scored a stupendous success of scandal. His inspiration was the musical toilet-roll rack. Because 'Profitable Evacuation' was published during the war its title was misunderstood; fortunately for it might not have been allowed if the authorities knew that it was concerned more or less with constipation.'

And yet as the book reaches its end, there is a serious side... ( )
  starbox | Dec 5, 2014 |
Although written some sixteen years after Joyce Cary’s ‘Mister Johnson’, this novel is set in the same era – late thirties – and seems to have a lot in common to me with its semi-humorous depiction of late colonial life. Where I felt, though, that Cary was sympathetic to the well-meaning but misguided Rudbeck as well as offering a positive portrayal of the spontaneous and exuberant Mister Johnson, I think Naipaul wants his readership to enjoy patronising laughter at the expense of all the characters, making them seem naïve and backward.

Obviously it would be wrong to criticise the novel for using racist terms like Niggergram for local rumour since the book was written in times when such terminology was still used, but I think at the heart of the novel is this superior tone. Near the start when Ganesh marries Leela, we are told that he beats her with his leather belt because she is crying, afraid about what Ganesh might do to her father, and we are told ‘it meant a lot to them. It meant that they had grown up and become independent. Ganesh had become a man; Leela a wife as privileged as any other big woman’. Here I think Naipaul is encouraging the reader to find such behaviour amusingly ridiculous. It’s the same towards the end of the book when Ganesh’s book ‘Profitable Evacuation’ on dealing with constipation ‘ established Ganesh finally, without question’. That everyone thinks Ganesh such a mystic despite the way Naipaul shows clearly that he just has random bits from all the books that he has acquired – often referred to through their width rather than content, reinforces Naipaul’s scorn for those who see him as such a great person.

I guess all this is why I found this novel nowhere near as engaging as Cary’s which traces the development of one character, Rudbeck, to reject colonialism as his self-doubts accrue. Here is something transcending time in a way that ‘The Mystic Masseur’ does not. ( )
  evening | Dec 25, 2012 |
Was ...well was ok, I guess . It's a fairly short, easy read - so one doesn't feel as if too much of one's life has been invested in it. There are things to like but if it is supposed to be a comedy, well I didn't laugh once and managed very few wryly amused smiles. I did like the dialogue, the consideration of Trinidadian hindu issues was interesting and the story barrelled along in a kind of magic realism-lite kind of mode. So a fairly pleasurable book to read, but not one that I feel has improved the quality of my life very much ( )
  anyotherbizniz | Jan 22, 2012 |
This was a tale of naked ambition and casual wife-beating amongst Trinidad's Indian community in the 1940s.

Written as a comedy, it didn't really raise any belly-laughs with me, but I suspect if I knew more about Trinidad, and Indian culture in that country, I would have regarded it as a brilliant satire. I also suspect some profound points were being made about religion and politics but allegory usually goes right over my head.

The characters aren't terribly likeable; notably the main character succeeds in just about everything he does, against all expectation, by trickery and fleecing his father-in-law. Even in a comedy, I find it's important to like at least one person.

Towards the end, the rib-tickler count went up a bit, and I liked the chapters concerning the newspaper and the elections. All in all, I'd say it's just not my genre, but I suspect there will be many out there who loved it. ( )
2 vote jayne_charles | Aug 25, 2010 |
A bad choice for a book to read after Oscar Wilde and Tom Robbins. The former has a rich language and the latter, a great sense of humour. I have heard from people that Naipual’s books are humorous. May be my sense of humour is pathetic, I didn’t see any humour in this book.

The book is the story of Ganesh, his failure as a primary teacher, his transformation into a mystic, a writer and finally an MBE. The story is set in Trinidad and concentrates on the small Indian community settled there. I am confused about the location and the people. They speak a weird dialect of English and it is weird to an extent that the dialgoues began to irritate me. Every sentence spoken in adorned with man or girl (and sometimes both) and no where grammatically correct. If the dialogues are getting on your nerves, the narration doesn’t help much. It is bland and sometimes makes you skip it. And why do newspapers in Trinidad carry reviews of Hindi films?

Ganesh’s metamorphosis is not totally belieavable. He appears to be a useless, good for nothing guy at one time, and the know-it-all mystic with a lot of self confidence at other times. There is nothing about Ganesh which the reader would remember. Behary, Ganesh’s friend, is an interesting character. I enjoyed the conversations between Behary (Suruj Poopa, as in Suruj ke pappa) and his wife, Suruj Mooma (you know what that means). Ganesh’s wife and his father-in-law add a bit of garnishing.

I appreciate the subtle, polished humour of P G Wodehouse and also in the face, wacky humour of Tom Robbins. Naipaul’s humour lies somewhere in between, and, I think, is targetted at the Indian community settled overseas. I can imagine the migrated Indians reading and laughing at the Indian culture and practices. I might be wrong about who his target audience is, but I am sure I am not one of them. This was my first Naipaul book, and in all probability, this will be the last one too. ( )
  book_reader | Dec 4, 2007 |
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To the Memory of my Father

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Later he was to be famous and honoured throughout the South Caribbean; he was to be a hero of the people and, after that, a British representative at Lake Success.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 037570714X, Paperback)

In this slyly funny and lavishly inventive novel–his first–V. S. Naipaul traces the unlikely career of Ganesh Ramsumair, a failed schoolteacher and impecunious village masseur who in time becomes a revered mystic, a thriving entrepreneur, and the most beloved politician in Trinidad. To understand a little better, one has to realize that in the 1940s masseurs were the island’s medical practitioners of choice. As one character observes, “I know the sort of doctors they have in Trinidad. They think nothing of killing two, three people before breakfast.”

Ganesh’s ascent is variously aided and impeded by a Dickensian cast of rogues and eccentrics. There’s his skeptical wife, Leela, whose schooling has made her excessively, fond. of; punctuation: marks!; and Leela’s father, Ramlogan, a man of startling mood changes and an ever-ready cutlass. There’s the aunt known as The Great Belcher. There are patients pursued by malign clouds or afflicted with an amorous fascination with bicycles. Witty, tender, filled with the sights, sounds, and smells of Trinidad’s dusty Indian villages, The Mystic Masseur is Naipaul at his most expansive and evocative.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:04 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

"The Mystic Masseur" traces the story of Ganesh who, at the beginning of the novel, is a struggling masseur when 'masseurs were ten a penny in Trinidad'. From failed primary school teacher and masseur to author, revered mystic and MBE, his is a journey memorable for its hilarious and bewildering success. Naipaul's clarity of style, humorous touch and powerful characterisation are all in evidence in this first book. This is an ideal beginning to readers new to Naipaul's writing.… (more)

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