Short on promised laughs

Diksha Basu's The Windfall is frequently funny, albiet in a mild-mannered way.

Diksha Basu

By Mike Crowl

It’s always disappointing when a blurb proclaims a book to be "laugh-out-loud funny", and you wait in vain for the laugh-out-loud moments. I did chortle once while reading The Windfall, but I don’t think that really counts.

All the same, Diksha Basu’s book is frequently funny in a mild-mannered way, while satirising those who acquire sudden wealth. But the humour and the delightful detail aren’t quite enough to carry the story forward. I think I’d hoped for another book like Aravind Adiga’s Selection Day, which has similar humour but a much stronger story and more vivid characters.

The Jha family is at the centre of The Windfall. Unexpectedly, Mr Jha has sold his listings website for $20million, and finds himself overwhelmingly rich. With his wife he moves from the apartment block where they’ve lived most of their married life to a large two-storey house in a wealthy Delhi suburb. At the apartments they’ve been surrounded by longstanding neighbours and friends. At the new house, they feel miles from anywhere and anyone, though one of their next-door-neighbours, Mr Chopra, appears friendly enough.

Mr Jha’s son has gone to the United States to do an MBA, but is slack in his study and failing the course. He’s also fallen in love with a blonde American girl, and can’t manage to tell his parents about her.

There’s a subplot about one of the former neighbours, the widowed Mrs Ray, who falls in love with Mr Chopra’s divorced brother. This part of the book has more warmth than the rest.

We don’t easily engage with the Jhas and the Chopras, though it’s easy to sympathise with their problems of unexpected wealth. Quirky characters abound, but only occasionally come to life. The changes that come to the Jha family by the end of the story seem underwritten, and it’s a bit of a surprise when the book suddenly comes to an end.

- Mike Crowl is a Dunedin author, musician and composer. 

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