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The Man Who Would Not See by Rajorshi Chakraborti – book review

Rajorshi Chakraborti.

A domestic psychological thriller is an absorbing and gripping read.

The title The Man Who Would Not See makes this novel sound like a cautionary tale. It is, though its moral lesson is nowhere near as clear-cut as that of your average fable. Our beliefs about who is villain and who is victim shift constantly as the main characters, Abhay and his wife, Lena, begin to second-guess not only the motives of others, but also themselves, to an extent that becomes borderline paranoiac.

Abhay grew up in Calcutta, and 30 years ago, when he and his older half-brother, Ashim, were children, Ashim made an error of judgment that saw him effectively banished from the family home. Now, Abhay and Lena have a comfortable life in Karori, Wellington, with their four-year-old daughter. Lena is in paid work and Abhay is content to be a stay-at-home dad, as it allows him time to write. He regularly skypes with his mother in Calcutta but had not talked to Ashim for years until a family wedding took Abhay briefly back home.

Contact tentatively re-established, Abhay invites Ashim to New Zealand. But when he arrives, Ashim seems to bring with him the old accusation that Abhay was responsible for his banishment. Both Abhay and Lena become convinced that their visitor’s intent is to seek retribution by making his brother suffer the kind of losses Ashim experienced all those years ago. Ashim, they believe, is determined to destroy their lives.

This is a psychological thriller on a domestic scale, and your enjoyment of the novel will depend on how fascinating you find the inner workings of increasingly turbulent minds.

In his fifth novel, Indian-born, New Zealand-based author Rajorshi Chakraborti skilfully amps up the tension, showing how easily fear can shove reason out the window, even in smart, seemingly self-aware people.

Chakraborti keeps Abhay just on the right side of our sympathies as he mentally shuttles between conflicting states: he blames himself, he blames Ashim; he feels hard done by, he knows he’s fortunate; he wants to reconnect with his family and culture, he wants his past and present to stay separate. Lena is alternately her husband’s advocate and his critic, and although she wants to avoid conflict, she frequently lights the fuse.

The pair’s primary fear is one readers should empathise with: being punished for a mistake you didn’t mean to make. As Abhay puts it early in the book, “How can something be your last chance if you didn’t know you were running out of chances?”

The novel might have done with fewer ‘‘little did we know’’ chapter endings, but that’s a minor criticism. It’s an absorbing, gripping read that is ultimately about the importance of family and the emotional labour required to create deep, honest connections.

THE MAN WHO WOULD NOT SEE, by Rajorshi Chakraborti (Penguin, $38)

This article was first published in the February 24, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.