There are a great deal of parallel events that occur during this novel allowing you to see how attitudes have changed over the years Olivia is a young woman who is simply bored with the life she finds herself leading with her respectable neighbours, dull dinner parties and absent husband The Nawab is looked upon with some contempt by Douglas and the other men in the English community Only a very little prince as his friend Harry remarks, he is regarded as the worst type of ruler the worst type of Indian you can have, by Douglas Living apart from his wife, dissatisfied and also bored, events throw him and Olivia together with disastrous consequences.
Although this is a short read, it really packs an emotional punch and it is beautifully written Both the story of Oliva and that of her step granddaughter almost merge, as you find yourself changing viewpoints with an ease that belies the skill of the author Ruth Prawer Jhabvala died at the age of 85 this year 2013 but her work stands the test of time and this 1975 Booker winning novel will remain a classic.
An eloquent and beautifully poised novella comparing and contrasting the experiences of two English women in India The unnamed narrator travels to India to investigate and tell the story of her father s first wife, a bored housewife who has an affair with a local prince Their two stories are alternated and have many parallels, as well as contrasts between colonial and independent India It is easy to see why this book won the Booker prize.
5 An only just postcolonial novel about the British in India, by an author who described herself as a Central European with an English education and a deplorable tendency to constant self analysis, and who was married to an Indian man Some friends will see from that quote why I might have been interested in Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, but I read this very short book mostly to improve my count of Booker winners this being only the 14th , as I m active in a group where many people have read That characterisation along with her scriptwriting work for Merchant Ivory was pretty much all I remembered about the author at the time I started reading Heat and Dust And I only learnt a few months ago that she wasn t, as I d always previously assumed, Anglo Indian About of the way through the book, I read about RPJ and her attitude to India, and this at least partly cancelled out one of the interpretations of the book I d been building up to that point Although I was intensely engaged in note taking and thinking all through the book, the analysis was almost all I got out of it I found the prose boring, and the parallels between the two protagonists stories became heavy handed There are two alternating narratives in Heat and Dust One is told in the third person, about Olivia, the bored, na ve and sheltered new young wife of Douglas, a British colonial official in West Bengal we are told in the book s opening sentence that she ran off with a Nawab in 1923 The other is a first person narrative contemporary to the book s writing in the 1970s, by the unnamed British granddaughter of Douglas second marriage whom I ll refer to as the narrator or the granddaughter She is in her late 20s or early 30s and travels to India, with a cache of Olivia s letters, to see the scenes of this family scandal which is now beginning to be talked about, and to experience some of the simplicity of India that attracted young Westerners on the hippie trail No less than five of the first ten Booker Prize winners 1969 77 address the British Empire and its end I haven t read any of the others, but it s clear from these wins that it was a big topic for British literary fiction at the time, and was predominantly written about from the British viewpoint all the winners other than V.
S Naipaul were British or Irish I had never been very keen to read these novels, as I expected the writing about India and Indian people would be clumsy from a contemporary viewpoint, and I didn t expect there would be much to learn about the old India hands that I hadn t already seen in old documentaries and light novels read when I was younger Starting Heat Dust, I wondered if it might be different because the author had lived in post independence India for 24 years with her Indian architect husband surely very a different experience from that of colonial staff or tourists Through most of the book, before I d done research, I developed a tentative hypothesis that Prawer Jhabvala a was notably progressive and perceptive in her attitudes by the standards of her time, and was subtly critiquing the granddaughter and people of her generation from similar old colonial service families and the hippies who thought they were open minded about India than they actually were Thus, the stereotypes in the third person story about Olivia were present because the granddaughter was telling that story and because that was how she, and the sources from which she got the information, saw the people involved The wilful, coercively seductive Muslim Nawab, for instance, seems to fit the old desert sheikh stereotype in romance This made it seem like a potentially rather interesting piece of literature for its time, and such layered complexity would explain its Booker win although some 2010s commentators, such as those who criticise the lionising of sexist or abusive male narrators, e.
g in Rebecca Solnit s essay on Lolita, would argue that the widespread critical elevation of such narrators is at best questionable I was never 100% sure about this analysis, and was planning to write a review in which I outlined both that interpretation and a simpler, less favourable one 1975 must not have been a great year for British and Commonwealth literature anyway, as the Booker shortlist consisted of only two titles Even though what I read about Prawer Jhabvala and her feelings about India pointed towards the simpler interpretation in which the granddaughter s attitudes have a fair bit in common with the author s, and in which the story of Olivia and the Nawab is told straight one could perhaps argue the book still has something going for it because it has the flexibility to be interpreted in than one way Pankaj Mishra s 2004 NYT review of another Prawer Jhabvala book refers to a 1980s essay of hers which said how intolerable India the idea, the sensation of it can become to someone like her Jhabvala spoke of the intense heat, the lack of a social life and the great animal of poverty and backwardness that she couldn t avoid Heat Dust does contain a lot of hackneyed scenes of vast crowds and poverty but at the same time everyone here whom I ve heard talk about going to India, including British people of Indian descent, has said that it s one of the things you notice at first because of the contrast so I m not totally sure what the correct take on that is, except that it s overused while other less stereotypical aspects may go ignored in western writing about India I can certainly relate to the dissatisfaction of living in a place you don t like, and to some other ways which Mishra describes her the confident exile of the much displaced person who, finally secure in her inner world and reconciled to her isolation, looks askance at people longing for fulfillment in other cultures and landscapes , or When fully absorbed by self analysis, the perennial outsider usually ends up regarding all emotional and intellectual commitment as folly Such cold eyed clarity, useful to a philosopher or mystic, can only be a disadvantage for the novelist, who needs to enter, at least temporarily, her characters illusions in order to recreate them convincingly on the page And these days than ever, lack of respect for a place where you ve spent a lot of time will win you few friends IME it takes about as long to wear off as the time you lived there I think there may be limited use in reading this novel these days, especially for those who find the writing as uninspiring as I did to learn about India in the 1920s or the 70s it s probably better to read non fiction, and its frequently stereotypical attitudes will annoy some readers.
Where there may be interesting things going on are in the cynical caricatures of young British hippies by a westerner who s been in India longer, and in feminism attitudes to women When the granddaughter tries to explain the hippies to her Indian landlord a few years younger than herself , it sounds as if she has a little affinity with themI tell him that many of us are tired of the materialism of the West, and even if we have no particular attraction towards the spiritual message of the East, we come here in the hope of finding a simpler and natural way of lifeDirectly following this is one of the very few occasions in which a convincing Indian voice appears, in his reply,This explanation hurts him He feels it to be a mockery He says why should people who have everything motor cars, refrigerators come here to such a place where there is nothing He says he often feels ashamed before me because of the way he is living When I try to protest, he works himself up , He says he is perfectly well aware that, by Western standards, his house as well as his food and his way of eating it would be considered primitive, inadequate indeed, he himself would be considered so because of his unscientific mind and ignorance of the modem world Yes he knows very well that he is lagging far behind in all these respects and on that account I am well entitled to laugh at him Why shouldn t I laugh he cries, not giving me a chance to say anything he himself often feels like laughing when he looks around him and sees the conditions in which people are living and the superstitions in their minds A hippie couple who came to India after being swept up by a swami s talk in London on universal love can be summarised thusWhy did you come I asked her To find peace She laughed grimly But all I found was dysentery These young travellers don t seem to be particularly well off, so the reader doesn t have to endure the most tedious aspects of the 21st century gap yah caricature Some even have regional accents This is instead about an absurd gulf between romantic expectation and physical reality, and how some Indian spiritual teachers seem to be either milking a cash cow, or are just oblivious to realities e.
g apparently training up a white lad as a mendicant sadhu, when Indian people are unlikely to give money to a white British man begging Even the 1970s episodes seem to echo the old colonial idea of the white man s graveyard the narrative intimates that the climate and the bugs are even bad for westerners who ve been in India for several years, although an Indian doctor argues with the granddaughter thatthis climate does not suit you people too well And let alone you people, it does not suit even us One feature of 1960s 70s hippie culture that has emerged from the shadows in recent years is how some women felt exploited because free love meant they felt obliged to have sex with men they didn t really want Heat Dust contains the first example I remember seeing from something written at the time the unwantedness is clear, but so is a certain amount of buying into the spiritual side I don t think it s entirely a white feminist book, in that nebulous 21st century term on which I will certainly not claim to be any kind of expert Perhaps there is a certain amount of cheap hippyish respect for natural local medicine and so forth, but there is a theme running through the book being subtly positive about greater solidarity between women If Olivia had sought a respectable acquaintance with the Begum, or if she had gone to Simla with Beth, perhaps she would never have got into the mess she did with the Nawab The two Bertha from Jane Eyre figures still don t get a lot to say but they are at least shown to be victims rather than monsters the granddaughter wants to arrange better treatment for the one in the 1970s, and she seems to be genuinely open to befriending some of the Indian women she meets though we can t tell what they make of her Other than a doctor or two, and possibly the Nawab s London based grandson, the Indian men don t come out of this awfully well, in terms of specific characters or general descriptions Though neither do most of the white British men, other than possibly Douglas, who had the eyes of a boy who read adventure stories and had dedicated himself to live up to their code of courage and honour too normie and straightforward for Olivia ultimately The granddaughter sounds kind of optimistic at the end, but I felt the author wasn t very convinced by her either I think RPJ treats everyone with detached cynicism, although some politely than others I m not sure I d really recommend Heat Dust for anything other than some sort of academic project on early British post colonial literature I mean, the second I reached the end, I heard myself saying as if by a reflex, thank fuck that s finished that was a bit crap though hopefully the above paragraphs show it s not quite that simple, and I did kind of enjoy trying to analyse it It is very short, so at least I wasn t bored for that long And Booker completists will read it despite its not having aged terribly well.
I d been looking forward to reading this book, not least because Ruth Prawer Jhabvala wrote the screenplays for wonderful films such as A Room With A View and Howards End, and a personal favourite of mine, The Remains of the Day I m also drawn to books set in India Lastly, because Heat and Dust won the Man Booker Prize in 1975, although admittedly that year there was only one other book on the shortlist Thomas Keneally s Gossip From the Forest You can understand my disappointment then that I didn t like Heat and Dust as much as I d hoped.
Told in alternating story lines from the point of view of Olivia and her step granddaughter the narrator , the book moves between the 1920s and the 1970s as the narrator seeks to piece together the story of Olivia, supposedly from her letters and journals but of that later and by retracing her steps, visiting the places Olivia lived in India Throughout the book, there is a real sense of history repeating itself in the lives of the two women Sometimes it s a case of mistakes of the past being repeated, sometimes it s the two women making different choices when faced with the same dilemma and sometimes it s just the author s clever inclusion of subtle echoes between the two timelines, such as visits to the same places.
The author evokes the atmosphere of the Indian cities and countryside through which both women travel However, they each have quite different responses to the India they encounter Olivia s experience is one of boredom and isolation, of long days spent alone while her husband, Douglas, is at work, mixing just with other Europeans and then only at weekly dinner parties where very little of the culture of India is allowed to intrude In a reference to the book s title, The rest of the time Olivia was alone in her big house with all the doors and windows shut to keep out the Heat and Dust The narrator s response is almost the complete opposite She embraces the atmosphere of India and, rather than feeling closed in, feels freer than she did back in England, as she emulates her Indian neighbours by sleeping outside at night because of the heat I lie awake for hours with happiness, actually I have never known such a sense of communion Lying like this under the open sky there is a feeling of being immersed in space though not in empty space, for there are all these people sleeping all around me, the whole town and I am part of it How different from my often very lonely room in London with only my own walls to look at and my books to read I suppose I should have felt sympathy for Olivia s frustration but I m afraid I couldn t because she seemed so unprepared to do anything about it that didn t involve destroying her marriage I couldn t decide if her professed devotion to her husband, Douglas, was actually that or in fact reliance or dependence on him Olivia also comes across as spoiled and self centered For example, when she first encounters the Nawab at a party in his palace and he appears to single her out for attention, her reaction is that here at last was one person in India to be interested in her the way she was used to What Similarly, Olivia professes to be by no means a snob she prefers to think of herself as aesthetic , as if that excuses what follows but on a visit to the sick Mrs Saunders, she describes that poor lady as still the same unattractive woman lying in bed in a bleak, gloomy house Also, Olivia muses that Mrs Saunders accent was not that of a too highly educated person Right, so not a snob then.
I also really struggled to understand why Olivia or anyone else, for that matter should be attracted to the Nawab He comes across as arrogant and manipulative bordering on coercive especially towards Harry, the young Englishman he has supposedly befriended At one point, Harry says of the Nawab, He s a very strong person , admitting one does not say no to such a person The Nawab seems unashamed of his influence over Harry, to the point of self righteousness, saying to Olivia and Douglas at one point, But don t you see, Mr and Mrs Rivers, he is like a child that doesn t know what it wants We others have to decide everything for him Olivia is so under the Nawab s spell, however, that her reaction is amazingly to envy Harry for having inspired such a depth of love and friendship.
At the beginning of the book, the narrator comments that India always changes people, and I have been no exception She goes on to say, But this is not my story, it is Olivia s as far as I can follow it My trouble was that I was never sure exactly by what means the narrator was telling Olivia s story because the reader is often party to Olivia s thoughts, and to Douglas s on some occasions Clearly, that insight couldn t be derived purely from Olivia s letters and journals Further, by the end of the book, how much does the reader actually know about why Olivia acted the way she did and the consequences of her actions Even the narrator admits there is no record of what she Olivia became later, neither in our family nor anywhere else as far as I know More and I want to find out You and me both, I thought.
Heat and Dust is interesting from the point of view of comparing the experiences of India by two women separated by fifty years and I liked the way the author created echoes of the earlier timeline in the later one However, I found it difficult to engage with the key characters and some of their actions and attitudes.
5 starsThis was my first trial in reading Mrs Ruth Prawer Jhabvala s novel due to my disappointment with Ms Arundhati Roy s latest one entitled The Ministry of Utmost Happiness Knopf 2017 in which I could not go on around page 30 even though I had immensely enjoyed reading her The God of Small Things Fourth Estate 2009 For our better understanding, we should start with its brief synopsis The beautiful, spoilt and bored Olivia, married to a civil servant, outrages society in the tiny, suffocating town of Satipur by eloping with an Indian prince Fifty years later, her step granddaughter goes back to the heat, the dust and the squalor of the bazaars to solve the enigma of Olivia s scandal back cover However, when we read the four line Goodreads one , there is a key word denoting her writing technique, that is interwoven As we can see from the first page with an anonymous narrator, Olivia s step granddaughter, called herself I who set the scene in nearly two pages and started her journal entries fifty years later that is in 1973 on 2, 16, 20, 24 February 11 pages then flashbacked interwoven to the year 1923 6 pages depicting Olivia s story Having an intermission by an asterisk, the journal resumed writing on 28 February 4 pages , then the year 1923 again I scribbled nearby If you understand her technique, you could guess that after reading some 23 pages after this 1923 you would read another series of the entries with recorded dates and months This writing cycle goes on like this till the end, neither chapter nor topic is available.
One of the difficulties is that some Indian terms seemingly unfamiliar to its readers have occasionally been used, for example, the Nawab, the Begum, the Baba, etc therefore, they simply stare in the face with vague understanding or in the dark As for me, I guessed from the context and thought the Nawab should be an honorable title an independent ruler p 78 , the Begum his mother, the Baba a holy man As for its plot, I think, we can keep going and arguably enjoy her narrations and dialogs however, there is something related to the step granddaughter whose unnecessarily absurd and precarious indulgence is so dramatic that it is unimaginably stunning and I just wonder why and if what she has done is morally right since what she has committed reveals her carnal relations with Chid, a vagrant Hindu sadhu with his flat Midlands accent so I console myself that everyone can be capable of doing anything fictitious as part of fiction imagined by its author In conclusion, what I would say about this novel as her debut to me is that I was a bit disappointed for some reason therefore, I think I should try reading hers as an exploratory means like how I have satisfactorily done with the fictions and nonfictions by Mr Graham Greene.
It took less than a day to read this 180 pages long and easy to read but it s a rich and fruitful book It comprises two stories in parallel the tale of Olivia who abandons her British husband when she goes to India and of her un named relative who goes to Satipur some fifty years later to solve the mystery of what became of Olivia She ends up becoming seduced by India too.
Olivia is naive but adventurous, and she doesn t like the other British wives and their disdain for Indian religion and culture She is bored by their vapid lifestyle, and she outrages society by visiting the local Naweb, an impoverished rogue in league with the Dacoits bandits The Naweb seems to exert a strange magnetic influence on those around him, including Harry, Olivia s only discerning friend and the one who helps her out when things go awry In the process of discovering these scandals about her great aunt , the narrator finds herself following in some of her footsteps However, whereas during the British Raj Olivia was isolated from the real India by class, caste and custom whatever her wishes may have been, in post independence India her successor lives amongst Indians, and can make different decisions about how to live her life Once again India is depicted as a place that attracts those interested in its spirituality but the dropout Chid s distaste for life as a mendicant shows just how silly it is for affluent outsiders to hanker for a life of poverty and hardship The title shows that Jhabvala had no illusions about the reality of life for most Indians I finished reading and journalled this book on 13.
Cross posted at The Complete Booker 1.
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5 starsWinner of the Booker Prize in 1975 this is actually quite good Ruth Prawer Jhabvala is an interesting character her parents fled the Nazis in the late 1930s and she lost many family members in the Holocaust She lived initially in Britain and then married an Indian architect and moved to India in 1951 She remained there until the 1970s when she moved to the US where she continued her already creative relationship with the Merchant Ivory team and had a hand in a great many of their films She is a perceptive writer, but is something of an outsider Her work has been praised widely, but I think Rushdie s comment about her being a rootless intellectual is most perceptive because it sums up the positives and negatives that have been expressed about her work Keen observation, but the sense of distance.
This novel jumps between India in the 1970s and India in the 1920s It revolves around Olivia in the 1920s, a new bride in India married to a middle ranking and starchy civil servant and her step granddaughter who is unnamed in the 1970s who is trying to find out about Olivia There are lots of parallels between the two stories There are comparisons to be drawn between the two women, between the two India s, between their two lovers.
The colonial servants are caricatures in many ways and yet in 1983 I was training to be a priest part of my disreputable past and I was working in a parish in a wealthy area of Birmingham I came across a very old couple who were ex Indian colonial service military police They would have slotted into the 1920s section of this book quite nicely There was no remorse regret that we had let India go and no understanding of what Imperialism and Empire was about It was like stepping back in time The Nawab in the book is certainly a caricature and has a lack of subtlety he seems to be a composite of everything that might possibly be wrong with the Indian upper class However the portrayals of the two women, I found interesting and the character of Olivia was very good and she deserved a better backdrop Her reactions to the stifling colonial community and her gradual rebellion were well written The descriptive passages relating to the heat especially are good and you can feel the building tension in Olivia s story It is difficult to understand why Olivia falls for either of the men she falls for but apparently power is a great aphrodisiac In contrast the two men in the 1970s are entirely different a hippy aspiring holy man and a lower middle class unremarkable husband quiescent in a way the 1920s men were not Both of the British men fail to cope with India in entirely different ways and both women stay As you may sense I am a little conflicted in what I think about it and am sitting firmly on the fence To conclude, I think I wanted , but I m not sure what.
Heat and Dust Won The Booker Prize The Story Spans The Past And The Present, Via The Diary Of An English Girl Who Goes To India To Reconstruct The Story Of Olivia, Her Grandfather S First Wife The Story Contrasts The India Of With The India Of The Present