Sweetness and Light

Liam Pieper

Sweetness and Light
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Sweetness and Light

Liam Pieper

India, monsoon season.


Connor, an Australian expat with a brutal past, spends his time running low-stakes scams on tourists in a sleepy beachside town. Sasha, an American in search of spiritual guidance, heads to an isolated ashram in the hope of mending a broken heart.

When one of Connor’s grifts goes horribly wrong, it sets in motion a chain of events that brings the two lost souls together - and as they try to navigate a world of gangsters, gurus and secret agendas, they begin to realise that within the ashram’s utopian community, something is deeply, deeply wrong …

Racing from the beaches of Goa to the streets of Delhi to the jungles of Tamil Nadu, Sweetness and Light is an intoxicating, unsettling story of the battle between light and dark, love and lust, morality and corruption. This is an explosive and unforgettable novel that confirms Liam Pieper’s place as one of Australia’s finest, sharpest writers.

Review

Liam Pieper’s unsettling, atmospheric second novel, Sweetness and Light, is set first on the west coast of India and later on the east. We initially encounter Australian expat Connor, who is ostensibly a dive instructor in the semi-isolated tourist hamlet of Shanti. Once, Connor was going to be an Olympic swimmer. Now, his primary industry is women: rich white women seeking their Eat, Pray, Love epiphany. Just like everyone else in Shanti, Connor works for Baba. Connor takes a cut, but it is to Baba that he gives each crop of photos of passports and bank cards reaped from his cynical romantic endeavours. It is Baba’s people who, months later, clean out the women’s accounts. However, it’s been a while since the last viable ‘talent’ and Connor is feeling a bit desperate, on several levels. Then a dive goes badly and Connor is hauled in by the local police.

Sasha is a Brooklynite, the only child of her Russian father, who died by suicide when she was young, and her Polish mother, who now denies Sasha’s father’s original existence. An almost-doctor escaping a falling apart marriage back at home, Sasha is on a yoga retreat in an exclusive ashram a few hours out of Chennai. The dubiousness of this cultish ashram (relaxingly policed by men with guns and dogs) without a single Indian yogi is clear, and only becomes more apparent. When Sasha briefly leaves the ashram to attend to unwanted business, she meets Connor, on unwanted business of his own, on a train ride back across the country.

Pieper deliberately positions this novel as a tale of tourists; there are a few local characters, but they are observed by the tourists and no local perspectives are assumed. There are brutal episodes in many of the characters' pasts, and the implications of twists in the present are profoundly disturbing. Sweetness and Light is a high-stakes, self-aware literary thriller mostly peopled by lost souls and corrupt operators – and the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive.


Elke Power is the editor of Readings Monthly.

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