The Mystic Masseur, V. S. Naipaul’s first published novel, is the story of the rise and rise of Ganesh, from failed primary school teacher and struggling masseur to author, revered mystic and MBE – a journey equally memorable for its hilarity as its bewildering success.
An unforgettable cast of characters witness this meteoric ascent: Ganesh’s father-in-law, Ramlogan, whose shop gave the impression that ‘every morning someone went over everything in it – scales, Ramlogan, and all – with a greased rag’; his aunt, the Great Belcher, with her troubling wind; his wife Leela, and her fondness for putting a punctuation mark after every word. Soon, Ganesh’s small hut is filled with books (1,500, as his wife will attest), and his trousers and shirt disappear to be replaced by more suitable attire for a proper mystic. As ‘The Woman Who Couldn’t Eat’ and ‘Lover Boy’, the man who fell in love with his bicycle, line up to be cured, it looks like the mystic masseur is surely destined for greatness.
In one of the author’s finest comic creations we see the immense sensitivity, humour and endlessly inventive imagination that have become the hallmarks of V. S. Naipaul’s genius.