‘Family Matters’ by Rohinton Mistry

family-mattersSadly, Rohinton Mistry has only written three novels – with Family Matters, written in 2002, the last. All three have been shortlisted for the Booker Prize (although none won the coveted award) and garlanded with awards and prizes.

A domestic drama, in Family Matters Mistry takes us once more into the realms of Parsi culture and traditions as the Vakeel and Chenoy families struggle to eke out a living in modern-day Bombay/ Mumbai.

Patriarch Nariman Vakeel, already 79 and diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, breaks his ankle and finds himself wholly dependent upon his unmarried stepchildren, Coomy and Jal. A spacious apartment aside, the two struggle to tend to his physical needs. Blaming him for the early death of their mother, Coomy in particular is resentful and bitter towards her ageing stepfather. She plots with her brother to move the responsibility of looking after the invalid onto his daughter, Roxanna, and her family.

A former lecturer of English, the irony of his position is not lost on Nariman as he compares his situation to that of King Lear. Cast out by his stepchildren having signed over the property into their names many years previously, he is forced to take solace at the home of his youngest child.

Roxanna and her husband Yezad Chenoy live with their two young sons in a cramped, two-room flat. For Murad and Jehangir, the arrival of their grandfather is an adventure. But his arrival puts a strain, both emotionally and financially, on their parents.

As with his earlier novels, Mistry is a magical storyteller, finding beauty, humour, tension and compassion in the mundane and the everyday. The world of the Chenoys and the streets of Bombay come to life; the decay of the family and those same streets evocatively captured; the tenderness unsentimentally portrayed. And whilst Family Matters does not achieve the dizzy heights of the magnificent A Fine Balance (the italicised backstory of a younger Nariman and his love for the non-Parsi Lucy is surprisingly pedestrian and undermines the impact of Mistry’s third novel), it remains a wonderful accomplishment.

Family Matters was nominated for the 2002 Booker Prize but lost out to Yann Martel and Life of Pi.

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