Life, self help-style

Ron Charles in The Washington Post:

APTOPIX_India_Pakistan_0c70c-7092The first thing you notice when you start Mohsin Hamid’s extraordinarily clever third novel is that it’s written in the second person. That’s rare, even rarer than the first-person plural, which we enjoyed in Jeffrey Eugenides’s “The Virgin Suicides” and Eleanor Brown’s The Weird Sisters.” In fact, you can’t remember reading anything narrated in the second person since Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City” (1984), which you actually only pretended to have read after you saw the Michael J. Foxmovie. Why not just stick with the good old third person? Don’t you find the second person hard to tolerate — the way it constantly reaches off the page and pokes you in the I?

As it turns out, that sense of being directly addressed is what this author exploits so brilliantly in “How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia.” Hamid, who attended Princeton and Harvard and now lives in Pakistan, has taken the most American form of literature — the self-help book — and transformed it to tell the story of an ambitious man in the Third World. It’s a bizarre amalgam that looks like a parody of the genre from one angle and a melancholy reflection on modern life from another. With a wink to Dale Carnegie and Stephen Covey, Hamid’s chapter titles lead us inexorably toward success: “Move to the City,” “Get an Education,” “Learn from a Master.” And he often strikes a perfect imitation of that overconfident, just-between-us tone that has appealed to the desperate for generations: “To be effective, a self-help book requires two things. First, the help it suggests should be helpful. Obviously. And second, without which the first is impossible, the self it’s trying to help should have some idea of what help is needed.”

More here.