September 2 2014
Featured in ‘The Guardian’ newspaper ‘Not the Booker’ longlist, Nikesh Shukla’s second novel is a salutary and comic tale about the perils of social media, finds our reviewer…
By Seetal Kaur Gahir
“MEATSPACE” opens up the world of Kitab Balasubramanyam, well, one of them at least.
It’s a twisted, crude, raw and sometimes cringe-worthy journey that follows a lonely, lost writer living off his mother’s inheritance and nursing ‘second-novel-syndrome’.
While procrastinating on social media, ‘googling’ all kinds of inappropriate subjects and consuming his ex-girlfriend’s chutney, Kitab runs into a desperate, excitable and exasperatingly horny version of himself with the same name, except he’s from Bangalore, India.
‘Kitab 2’ (as he’s called) follows Kitab relentlessly like an annoying whack-a-mole and despite the many knock-backs he receives, Kitab is strangely tied to him out of a seemingly unwanted sympathy and guilt.
Aziz (Kitab’s brother) also has an interesting role to play. Just like Kitab 2, he is almost equally hell-bent on having successful sexual encounters and takes off halfway around the world to meet his doppelganger, ‘Teddy Baker’ after stalking him on the internet.
Despite the strange naming choices with Kitab being the Hindi/Urdu word for ‘book’, Balasubramanyam being a characteristically South Indian name, Aziz being a clearly Muslim name, and Kitab’s father, ‘Rasesh’ being a Gujarati amalgamation, there is a distinct reasoning behind each of the relationships in “Meatspace” that grows and allows Kitab to realise aspects of himself that he wouldn’t be able to find anywhere online.
It is this theme of desperation for real connections in a hyper-connected digital world that Shukla expertly captures.
Every character is reaching out and trying to find some recognition or a meaningful relationship. But in a world of retweets, likes, followers and ‘friends’ we tend to soothe our loneliness by placing importance in our online interactions.
Shukla highlights this as almost futile. Poignant lines are interspersed throughout the story as profound reflections that can resonate with anyone who starts having heart-palpitations when they can’t find their smartphone.
“I ‘like’ more Facebook things – pictures of people’s children, sarcastic political opinions and motivational quotes. I’m engaging in my friend’s lives. I link my Twitter and Facebook to some YouTube music videos I like. Just so I’ve engaged in the world,” he writes.
It seems that there’s a blurry line between the reality of online interaction and ‘meatspace’ and fiction and non-fiction.
Authors may feel that online self-promotion is not only increasingly important, but also distracting and suffocating in many ways. Perhaps “Meatspace” is a reflection of Shukla’s own struggle with his relationship with social media and the internet.
But whatever personal experiences Shukla has drawn on, they have definitely been mashed up with sharp-shooting language, a pacey plot line and plenty of weird occurrences to keep you guessing about what will happen next in “Meatspace“.
Main picture: Nikesh Shukla
‘Meatspace‘ by Nikesh Shukla, The Friday Project, purchase http://www.hive.co.uk/book/meatspace/18282100/