Anjali Joseph’s dance of distance

Even if it doesn’t wholly satisfy, Keeping in Touch is both unusual and enchanting
July 21, 2022

Keeping in Touch
Anjali Joseph (RRP: £14.99)
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Anjali Joseph’s fourth novel is the story of both a long-distance relationship and a light bulb with unusual properties that “learns to shine and hold its radiance the more it’s used.”

The relationship is between Ved, a British investor taking the light bulb to India—where his parents are from—and Keteki, an art curator heading back to Assam. They meet in the airport lounge at Heathrow, where Ved observes her and reflects: “He had never realised how appealing these things were: armpit fuzz, smudged eyeliner, white hairs. Secretly, for years, he must have been infatuated with them all.” They embark on a love affair that is complicated not only by them living on different continents but also by their own ambivalence. 

The hesitant courtship between this couple in their late thirties is beguiling and unpredictable. There is also a deft, unshowy handling of an adult dealing with the legacy of child abuse.

Ved is a toxic bachelor at the beginning of the novel; disenchanted with his bourgeois lifestyle and looking round his flat, he wonders if “anyone had successfully overdosed on balsamic vinegar.” He is nonplussed when Keteki asks him what he does for “joy.”  

Intriguingly, Joseph foregrounds Assam in Keeping in Touch. She has said elsewhere of Assamese culture that “the literary and elliptical are among the most favoured modes of expression. That dance of distance and approach is also the dynamic of falling in love.”

For all the novel’s charm, however, it doesn’t feel as if Joseph fully gets to grips with her material and there is something unrealised about the finished book. But even if it doesn’t wholly satisfy, the love story is both unusual and enchanting.