The Living Days is never a predictable novel, indeed it is never less than perplexing and unsettling. What rescues it from being merely preposterous is, against expectation, the move from the apparently naturalistic style of the opening chapters to the sections in which free rein is given to the possibility that the living days are lived in a state between life and death. This is especially so with the reappearance of Howard as an altered and always attentive new presence, peering at Mary through a hole above her bed. All of this is mixed with a renewed attention to activities outside the bounds of the dilapidated house in which the three people now “live” together. They are the true misfits of the city.
Devi’s talents were impressively showcased in Eve Out of Her Ruins, which explored everyday violence and misogyny in the slum districts of the Mauritian capital, Port-Louis, with a smart blend of lyricism and sociological insight. The Living Days is a somewhat disappointing follow-up, comparatively lacking in subtlety and trading rather too heavily on shock value. There is a conspicuous strain of Victorian paternalism in Devi’s ruminations on the nexus between poverty and violence, which occasionally lapse from well-meaning solicitude into crass condescension. There’s a surprise cameo from Anne Robinson, whose brutal treatment of contestants on The Weakest Link is cited as a symptom of a society in which compassion and empathy have run dry.