A writer goes down the rabbit hole : The London born Kunzru began his career with ''The Impressionist'' [2002], a sprawling historical novel about his father's native India, but since then his fiction has often used the machinery of the thriller, with its secrets and hidden identities, as a way to explore the the contemporary sense of the self.

Kunzru's work as a journalist, including two recent and indispensable essays in The New York Review of Books on the web-fueled rise of chance meeting with a man called Anton.

There are no actual, red pills in ''Red Pill,'' not even a cherry cough drop. The title of this novel, for those of us who are hopelessly behind on our memes,  refers to the process of discovery that  the book's unnamed narrator undergoes - or thinks he undergoes.

The term comes from ''The Matrix'' [a film I found so intellectually vapid that I couldn't finish watching, however brilliant its visuals], and has since gained currency with everyone from  men's rights groups to the alt-right to Elon Musk.

Keanu Reeve's character faces a choice : Take the blue pill and continue his happy, illusory life, or the  red-one and see the world as it actually is, in all its dizzying violent, chaotic glory.

The narrator of Hari Kunzru's clever but exasperating sixth novel lives in cushioned Brooklyn safety, a progressive member of the creator classes, an essayist and teacher, a husband and a father.

Yet he finds himself suffering from both writer's block and a nameless dread, as though something profoundly but subtly wrong'' is about to happen in the world at large. Both conditions feed off each other, and make him believe that he'll be unable to protect his family from any waiting malignity.

He broods, and when he's offered a fellowship at a Berlin think tank, his wife is happy to see him go. Each longs for a few months of peace' each hopes that he'll not only write something but also get his head straight.

The visiting scholars are required to foster community by working in a shared space and sitting in assigned seats at meals, he refuses to do any of it. Their productivity is logged, and he soon begins to believe that his room is being searched and his every movement monitored by hidden surveillance cameras.

Eventually he confronts the center's administration, and is then ordered to leave, well before his time is up.

''Red Pill'' closes in November 2016, with a party meant to celebrate the election of Hillary Clinton.

I went to such a party myself, and remembered the  stomach-twisting hollowness I felt at the end of the evening. But as the  conclusion to this novel, it seems a bit obvious. As he watches the returns, the narrator sees something revelatory in a shot of a Trump victory party, something that convinces him that he was in fact right.

There is some renewed malignity at loose in the world.

Kunzru's own journalism, however, will tell you much more about it than ''Red Pill'' does, and for all its technical skill the novel finally sings an old refrain : Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.

The World Students Society thanks Book Review author Michael Gorra.


Post a Comment

Grace A Comment!