Man on Fire by Stephen Kelman

This month’s book proved to be a difficult read and was not to everyone’s taste.

John Lock has come to India to meet his destiny: a destiny dressed in a white karate suit and sporting an impressive moustache. He has fled the quiet desperation of his life in England: decades wasted in a meaningless job, a marriage foundering in the wake of loss and a terrible secret he cannot bear to share with his wife.

He has come to offer his help to a man who has learned to conquer pain, a world record breaker who specialises in feats of extreme endurance and ill-advised masochism. Bibhuti Nayak is the sort of exuberant semi-mystic who might beggar belief if his extraordinary accomplishments weren’t inspired by actual events. His next record attempt – to have fifty baseball bats broken over his body – will set the seal on a career that has seen him rise from poverty to become a minor celebrity in a nation where standing out from the crowd requires tenacity, courage and perhaps a touch of madness. In answering Bibhuti’s call for assistance, John hopes to rewrite a brave end to a life poorly lived.

But as they take their leap of faith together, and John is welcomed into Bibhuti’s family, and into the colour and chaos of Mumbai – where he encounters ping-pong- playing monks, a fearless seven-year- old martial arts warrior and an old man longing for the monsoon to wash him away – he learns more about life, and death, and everything in between than he could ever have bargained for.

The contrasting voices and backgrounds of John and Bibhuti can be clearly heard in alternating chapters and the story also moves from present to past so the early chapters need a degree of focused attention but the story that develops if full of colour and surprise – a story of faith, forgiveness and second chances.

Pat Mutton