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Not being in the style of my usual choice of reading, Rohinton Mistry's 'Family Matters' was my holiday wildcard and it was a decision that I would not live to regret. Centred around an extended family in India's sensory explosion of a city, Mumbai, 'Family Matters' follows an elderly man, Nariman whose health is deteriorating as he is beset by Parkinson's Disease and relies upon his step-children to look after him. At the beginning of the novel he is with brother and sister Jal and Coomy, the later a firebrand of a woman who resents her circumstance and plots to have her stepfather evicted and sent to the care of her sister - Nariman's blood-daughter Roxana, and her family, in their tiny two-room flat - the same flat on which Nariman spent his life savings on so they could have "a place of their own"and raise her family in peace.
Much of the book follows that sister's husband, Yezad, who works in a Sports shop and is going through something of a spiritual maelstrom. His character elicits myriad emotions and is a tour de force of Mistry's imagination and, one suspects, experiences. As Nariman's exit from Coomy and Jal's care is manufactured in hilarious circumstance in collaboration with a neighbour whose fascination with DIY is not matched with talent and he moves in with Yezad, his wife and two sons, the real meat of the book begins to evolve. We learn much about Yezad's family - the monetary struggles that the new occupant exacerbates, the way one of his sons extorts money from his school-friends to help out, slipping the proceeds into the housekeeping, unbeknownst to his father, who at the same time is taking betting advice - to initial success from an eccentric neighbour - a middle-aged spinster who gambles on the lottery based on the numerical interpretation of her weird dreams.
A whole host of brilliant supporting characters including an emotionally damaged simpleton colleague of Yezad, his boss with a deep love for his city - said boss's horrible wife and a violinist who likes to remove her clothes to practice add real weight to the book's authenticity and compare favourably with the wonderful characterisation of Haruki Murakami.
Bubbling away underneath all the weird and wonderful goings on, the family rows and the beautifully woven relationships between the characters, is the ghost of Nariman's past - his ex-girlfriend and true-love, whom, under duress from his family, he was forced to leave in favour of a more suitable arranged marriage. The resentment of this is largely what drives Coomy's bitterness towards her stepfather. Nariman's remembrances of this time and doomed love are beautifully scribed in asides.
As Nariman's health deteriorates and Yezad is forced to re-evaluate his life and expectations, the plot turns to his attempts to convince his boss to run for local election, freeing Yezad up to become manager of the store. Things take many a strange turn and by the book's end, Yezad has become ultra-religious and his sons are at odds with this remarkable about-turn. 'Family Matters' is a wonderful, passionate and evocative portrait of an Indian family that I can recommend wholeheartedly to anyone and everyone. You'll laugh, you'll get angry, you'll cry and you'll think. What higher recommendation is there?