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20.01.2017

The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness, also known as the edifice of Arundhati Roy’s second novel, is currently accepting no appointmentsIn keeping with its Soviet-style black-comedy name, information about the book has been less than forthcoming so far. Roy’s friends, photographers and interviewers have all told us that they know next to nothing about the book; her agent and publishers must maintain the dignified silence of contractual obligation.

In spite of this, a surprising amount of information about the book is out there. Here’s a rundown of everything we know about it so far.

It Has Nothing In Common With Her Last Novel: The last thing readers should expect is “The God Of Small Things II,” Roy told Aishwarya Subramanyam in her cover-story interview for Elle in July last year. The terrain has certainly shifted (on which more later).

It Has Pictures: At least one, this radiant author portrait – almost certainly taken at her home in Jor Bagh, Delhi – by journalist and photographer Mayank Austen Soofi, who’s also the owner of a photo-blog of people reading The God Of Small Things. These and other tantalising details are drip-fed to us from the account of Simon Prosser, director of Hamish Hamilton, who specializes in casual tweets about the book’s editorial status (it went to copy in November) and “interior design” (“coming along nicely”).  

It Shares An Editor With Swing Time: Prosser was responsible for bringing Zadie Smith to Hamish Hamilton, which published Swing Time last November; he’s also the editor who “discovered” Hari Kunzru and hand-holds Jonathan Safran Foer

She’s Never Going To Talk About It At JLF: So if you were planning to catch seats at a front lawn discussion next year, brace yourself. Roy became the very sexy elephant in the room at a debate about freedom of speech at Jaipur last year, and writers like Pankaj Mishra – once a young editor who discovered the manuscript of The God Of Small Things – lambasted the festival and its sponsors, Zee Media, for its role in chilling her (and our) free speech.

It’ll Have To Beat Thomas Cromwell For A Booker: If Roy is nominated again, she’ll be up against Hilary Mantel, whose Thomas Cromwell trilogy – currently at two-for-two in the Bookers – will be completed this year with The Mirror And The Light. Other contenders will probably include Colm Toibin’s retelling of the Oresteia, Kamila Shamsie’s retelling of Antigone, George Saunders’ first novel, and maybe even Michael Chabon’s Nazi-rockets extravaganza, Moonglow. (And Zadie.)

It Has John Berger’s Blessing: The late and much-lamented writer-critic was a dear friend of Roy’s – a Berger quote is the epigraph of The God Of Small Things – and told her way back in 2011 to “go back to Delhi” and “finish working on the book.” She did – just before an anonymous note inviting her to visit Maoists in the jungles of central India was slid under her door. 

The Numbers Are In: It’s either 320- or 416-pages long; will cost you Rs 621 to pre-order on Kindle right now; and has 3.stars on GoodReads, quite an accomplishment considering no one rating it has actually read it yet.  

It Might Be Set In Kashmir: Roy’s publishers Hamish Hamilton, an imprint of Penguin Random House, are willing to admit that the story features a city graveyard in which “a resident unrolls a threadbare Persian carpet between two graves.” There’s a snowy valley in which “a father writes to his five year-old daughter about the number of people that attended her funeral.” And there’s a “Jannat Guest House,” in which “two people who’ve known each other all their lives sleep with their arms wrapped around one another as though they’ve only just met.” (How do we know this? We checked Amazon, which surprisingly few people seem to have done so far).

There are also owls and geckoes, a baby who appears “quite suddenly” on a concrete sidewalk, and “a glorious cast of unforgettable characters,” that all its readers so far seem to be pretty taken with. Roy’s publishers said in a statement that the characters are “brought to life with generosity and empathy, in language of the utmost freshness.” (Is that requisitioned from a Ministry Of Utmost Freshness?) 

It’s Out In 5 ½ MonthsIts publication date is June 1, 2017, “on the 20-year anniversary of The God Of Small Things. 

You Probably Won’t Hear Anything More About It Before Then: Expect news and reviews of this book to be embargoed right up to the weekend of its release: Indian publishers keep the lid on blockbuster releases – and especially ones with simultaneous publication dates abroad – until the day they hit bookstores. If Meru Gokhale returns your calls for an advance copy, please remember to share with the rest of us.

Happy weekend, and look out for our live coverage of JLF.

Photograph credit Mayank Austen Soofi / The Delhiwalla, and this tweet.

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