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Il servant Longing for passion and independence Olivia is drawn into the spell of the Nawab a minor Indian prince deeply involved in gang raids and criminal plots She is intrigued by the Nawab's charm and aggressive courtship and soon begins to spend most of her days in. 25 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 uote 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 VS 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 critiuing 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 eg in Rebecca Solnit s essay on Lolita would argue that the widespread critical elevation of such narrators is at best uestionable 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 freuently stereotypical attitudes will annoy some readersWhere 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 them I 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 life Directly 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 inadeuate 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 mindsA hippie couple who came to India after being swept up by a swami s talk in London on universal love can be summarised thus Why did you come I asked herTo find peace She laughed grimly But all I found was dysenteryThese 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 eg 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 that this climate does not suit you people too well And let alone you people it does not suit even usOne 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 acuaintance 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 uite 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

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Heat and Dust

His company But then she becomes pregnant and unsure of the child's paternity she is faced with a wrenching dilemma Her reaction to the crisis humiliates her husband and outrages the British community breeding a scandal that lives in collective memory long after her deat. 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 hopedTold 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 placesThe author evokes the atmosphere of the Indian cities and countryside through which both women travel However they each have uite 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 thenI 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 conseuences 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 thoughtHeat 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

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A profound and powerful novel winner of the Booker PrizeSet in colonial India during the s Heat and Dust tells the story of Olivia a beautiful woman suffocated by the propriety and social constraints of her position as the wife of Heat and PDF or an important English civ. Fascinating book about the contradictions between and at the same time love of Indian and English culture The beautiful spoiled and bored Olivia married to a civil servant living in India shocks society in the tiny suffocating hot town of Satipur by eloping with an Indian prince the Nawab Fifty years later her step grand daughter goes back to the heat dust and the sualor of the bazaar to find out of Olivia s scandal and discover India for herself So the story moves back and forth in time Fascinating story well told Here s a piece of the book I try to find an explanation for him I 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 life 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 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 Who would not laugh he says pointing out of the window where one of the town s beggars happens to be passing a teenage boy who cannot stand upright but drags the crippled underpart of his body behind him in the dust who would not laugh says Inder Lal at a sight like that Heat and Dust was the Booker prize winner of 1975I read in a folder of the Booker Prize that authors were insulted that the judges found only two books worthy of shortlisting out of a total of 83 submissions The other one was Thomas Keneally s Gossip from the Forest


10 thoughts on “Heat and Dust

  1. says:

    Fascinating book about the contradictions between and at the same time love of Indian and English culture The beautiful spoiled and bored Olivia married to a civil servant living in India shocks society in the tiny suffocating hot town of Satipur by eloping with an Indian prince the Nawab Fifty years later her step grand daughter goes back to the heat dust and the sualor of the bazaar to find out of Olivia’s scandal

  2. says:

    35 starsWinner of the Booker Prize in 1975; this is actually uite good Ruth Prawer Jhabvala is an interesting character; her

  3. says:

    1 Western writers on British India seem a bit obsessed with sex between English women and Indian men There was A Passage to India by Forster in

  4. says:

    An elouent 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

  5. says:

    This short novel tells the story of two women in two different era's First there is the spoiled and unhappy Oliva in 1923 colonial India who outrages society by having an affair with the local Nawab Olivia's husband Douglas divorces her and remarries In the 1970's his granddaughter arrives in India to revisit the places her family once lived and to try to discover the truth about the scandal that surrounded her grandfather's fi

  6. says:

    25 An only just postcolonial novel about the British in India by an author who described herself as a Central European with an English educatio

  7. says:

    35 starsThis was my first trial in reading Mrs Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's novel due to my disappointment with Ms Arundhati Roy's latest

  8. says:

    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 Kenea

  9. says:

    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 pa

  10. says:

    The opening of this book tells that Olivia finds her way to the Nawab a minor Indian Prince leaving her husband I have had a string of reading lately where there is marital trouble and I wasn't exactly in the mood for another But this felt entirely different Olivia seems wholeheartedly in love with Douglas her husband and he with her So what happened? Olivia's story takes place in 1923 when the British ruled India Her story is to