Tag Archives: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

Heat and Dust – Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

I have never been fortunate enough to go to India in the real world, it’s one of my ‘when I win the lottery’ destinations, but I am always fascinated by the life and culture it has both now and in its past. This is where fiction is a joy because at the turn of the page, with the right author, we can find ourselves transported into the lives of people we could never meet and the worlds we can’t simply pop on a train to. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s deceptively small novel ‘Heat and Dust’, as the title states rather effortlessly, transports the reader into India not once but twice, in two very different time periods.

John Murray, paperback, 1975, fiction, 192 pages, from my TBR

There are two parallel stories running throughout ‘Heat and Dust’. In 1923 we have Olivia who, knewly married, moves to India when her husband Douglas gets a job there working for the British Government. Whilst there she meets the local ruling Nawab, a prince, which leads to (and this isn’t spoiling the story, we know this very quickly) an affair and her desertion. Fifty years later, after hearing of her grandfathers first wife who disappeared, we meet an unnamed woman who wants to find out more about this mysterious Olivia and just what happened to her after she seemingly vanished and starts to follow her trail.

What is so interesting about the book is how the events of both women start to mirror each other yet at the same time are completely polar experiences. They are both in the region of Khatm and yet, with the time between them, they seem like very separate worlds and ones that in each case Jhabvala sets the atmosphere incredibly. The world Olivia inhabits is one of lavishness, to the point of being spoiled, she has lots of money and often bored, verging on miserable, with either too much time on her hands of being forced into ‘socialising’ with other expat wives like the matronly Mrs Crawford and Mrs Minnies, women she doesn’t like and who don’t really like her. It is a world that bares almost no relation to the horrors her husband Douglas sees which the Nawab accepts which Jhabvala gives us occasional shocking glimpses of.

“It happened when Mr. Crawford was away on tour and Douglas on his own in charge of the district. A grain merchant had died and his widow had been forced by her relatives to burn herself with him on his funeral pyre.”

Her step-granddaughter (which seems an odd title as they never met) however inhabits the poorer, if slightly more developed, Satipur. There is the thrill of the new world and also the mystery of piecing this woman and her scandal together. It’s a world of community, the relationship between her, her landlord Inder Lal and his wife, who people believe is possessed by spirits when we could see she has epilepsy, Ritu, also adds a whole new dimension to the novel. This is the world of the ‘heat and dust’ that we are promised from the books title, it’s a foreign, exotic and occasionally scary world, yet she throws herself into the life that greets her, albeit after having to get somewhat accustomed to it.

“The family of the shop downstairs also sleep in this courtyard, and so does their little servant boy, and some others I haven’t been able to identify. So we’re quite a crowd. I no longer change into a nightie but sleep, like an Indian woman, in a sari.
It is amazing how still everything is. When Indians sleep, they really do sleep. Neither adults nor children have a regular bed-time – when they’re tired they just drop, fully clothed, onto their beds, or the ground if they have no beds, and don’t stir again till the next day begins.”

There is a lot of mystery and often some tragedy in ‘Heat and Dust’, yet there is also some bright humour there too, often Jhabvala mixes them at the same time, bittersweet moments or a laugh that casts a dark show. A section in the book where the unnamed narrator takes on an almost obligatory relationship with a fellow Englishman, Chid, who has converted and in doing so seems to have developed a rapacious sex drive had me laughing a lot. Jhabvala wants to add some lighter notes in a world where poverty and lepers are rife, after all for some this is the day to day and it has happy moments. In the case of Olivia’s story line we have her gossiping with the leech-like Harry, a man who has somehow got into the pocket of the Nawab which itself then adds a dark undertone to how manipilative this ruler can be and how controlling.

I thought ‘Heat and Dust’ was a marvellous book, I should add it won the Booker in 1975 – a controversial year. It is a book that is about a country at two very different points in time, the tale of failed marriage, the mysteries of people and love in the unlikeliest of places. Many writers would have needed to write a huge novel to tell this tale, instead what we have is a book you can get lost in for a single sitting and be rewarded beyond expectation. Its an epic distilled in a way, if thats not a cliche. That to me shows the power of Jhabvala’s wonderful prose. I thought it was marvellous. It shocked me it’s not been in print for some time, along with a lot of the authors other work (which I am keen to read), however it’s coming out through Abacus in October, I’d advise you get a copy.

Have you read this and if so what did you think? Have you read any of the authors other novels? I seem to be having a good run with more of the classic Booker novels like this and ‘Moon Tiger’ any others you would recommend?

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Why Don’t Men Read Books By Women… Or Do They?

Today’s post title might seem like a silly question initially but actually it is a rather pertinent one as it is a common fact that a lot of male readers will only read books by men. I can hear people here there and everywhere saying ‘pah, that’s not true’ and if that is the case then that’s great, but as I am one of the speakers on ‘Why Don’t Men Read Books By Women?’ at the Lucy Cavendish Woman’s Word Literary Festival in June this year, which I will also be reporting on from behind the scenes too, I thought it was a subject that we could have a good old natter about on Savidge Reads today please.

As I am sure you will have gathered by now I am definitely a man who does read books written by women, in fact I think I read more books by women than I do by men actually. I myself have a whole host of varied female authors in Mount TBR some of which, as pictured above, that I am going to be reading in the lead up to this event. I have chosen some modern crime, some classics (I didn’t feel that I could do this even having never read a full novel by Jane Austen, oops, it is frankly high time I did, I do think the reasons I have been put off are possibly rather like a lot of blokes I know – more on that in due course), some recently released contemporary novels (which nicely combine with my decision to read the whole of the Orange longlist, currently on hold at the halfway point as I have slight Orange overload at the moment) and some of the female greats I have loved in the past and want to read more of. Where oh where to start with a lovely loot like this?

I have noticed that apart from two modern debut novels and a Booker winner from many moons ago, I haven’t plucked out any books by female authors I haven’t tried before so any recommendations for those are welcome if you have any?

So in the name of research, and also because I am rather nosey and fascinated by other peoples reading habits, what about all of you? Which men will happily put there hands up and say that they too read lots of books by women? Any male readers of this blog who are happy to say they don’t and if so why not? And my lovely female readers what about your male relatives and partners do they read books by women or not and if so which titles have they particularly loved? Oh and let me know your thoughts if you have read any of the books pictured above and what you thought of them please. Oh and of course if you are a female reader, do you find you read more books by women than you do men, or vice versa? All thoughts welcomed and, as ever, most appreciated.

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February’s Incomings…

I do love those lists that some bloggers have down the side of their blogs where  the jacket covers of all the incomings that they have received or are receiving as the weeks go on can be seen. Sadly, though I am sure that there is one on wordpress, I have no idea how to do such a thing and as I started one last month I thought I would do another end of month post (which might become a monthly feature) of the books that have arrived this month. Now if you don’t like these sort of posts fear not as you can discuss the pro’s and con’s of big books with me today on this post here instead. However if you love these posts, as I do on other blogs, then lets take a gander at what has been quite a crop of books.

First up it’s the hardbacks and as you will see while a lot of books do come from publishers some are treats from other lovely people, or simply treats from me.

  • Snowdrops by A.D. Miller – This is a book I had been told was winging its way to me and I got very excited about and then the mail man mislaid it. Now it’s here and over the next week or so I am going to be throwing myself into Russia which is a country that fascinates me and yet I know very, very little about. I am wondering if the atmosphere, which is meant to be incredible in this novel, will send me off to read some of the Russian greats.
  • Beautiful Forever by Helen Rappaport – This came out last year and is non-fiction about “Madame Rachel of Bond Street – cosmetician, con-artist and blackmailer” true life Victorian dastardly goings on, what could be more me. This was a belated Xmas pressie from my mother which she brought down last week.
  • One of Our Tuesdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde – The latest Thursday Next novel and a timely reminder I need to start at the beginning (I wanted to see him at Waterstones tomorrow but I will be in hospital, grrr).
  • The Tenderloin by John Butler – a Green Carnation Prize submission from Picador.
  • The Path of Minor Planets by Andrew Sean Greer – One of Faber and Faber’s entries for the Green Carnation Prize. (Publishers are really onto it early this year – hoorah!)
  • Mrs Fry’s Diary by Mrs Stephen Fry – I bought this at Sainsbury’s for £3 on a whim as thought might make me laugh at hospital.
  • Sleeping With Mozart by Anthea Church – I was thrilled when Virago got in touch and asked me to read this but sadly I didn’t care for it much and as I don’t like doing negative reviews it’s leaving me in a real quandary, to write about or not to write about? Hmmm!
  • Darkside by Belinda Bauer – I loved Belinda’s debut ‘Blacklands’ and having been in a crime mood this was ideal. Thoughts will be up tomorrow (if everything works right) on this murder mystery.
  • Ape House by Sara Gruen – After reading ‘Water for Elephants’ for book group and loving it, I am thrilled that Sarah’s publishers Two Roads wanted me to give her latest a whirl.
  • Cedilla by Adam Mars-Jones – This is the second Faber entry for the Green Carnation so far and its HUGE (I am talking big books later) and one I am looking forward to as it’s the sequel to the rather marvellous ‘Pilcrow’ though I will be judging it as a stand alone book of course.

Phew that’s quite a few. Onto paperbacks which have been arriving thick and fast. I haven’t included the Jo Nesbo parcel which arrived and I mentioned before, nor have I included the two rather large shopping spree’s which I undertook in February both on a visit to Granny Savidge in Matlock and on a day out in Yorkshire earlier this month. Shame on me, still somehow I managed to buy a few in this lot too.

  • Through The Wall by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya – The lovely Novel Insights brought me this Penguin Mini Classic last week on a visit as she thought it would be right up my street. I have a feeling she will be spot on.
  • Heat & Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala – A booker prize charity shop find for 50p. I have said I do intend to read all the winners at some point and have devoured this one so expect thoughts soon.
  • The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons – I really enjoyed ‘Mr Rosenblum’s List’ when I read it last year and actually chattered and nattered to Natasha when she was working on this one so I know a bit about the plot and it sounded fascinating so I have everything crossed this will be a corker.
  • The Bride That Time Forgot by Paul Magrs – The latest Brenda and Effie adventure in paperback, again reminding me I am slightly behind with this series. I also have a spare so expect a give away at some point.
  • Where The Serpent Lives by Ruth Padel – I know nothing of this book but isn’t she the lady that caused a lot of controversy over something and nothing?
  • South Riding by Winifred Holtby – I have devoured this one and my thoughts on it are here.
  • The Surrendered by Chang-Rae Lee – Another book I know nothing about but having read the quotes and page 29 (all the blurb says is ‘read page 29’) this looks like it could be an astounding book.
  • Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue – As you will all know I loved ‘Room’ and this is a reissued copy of her earlier historical novel (I am hoping it’s a Victorian romp) which I am excited about. I have already got an American edition of this which I am now handing over to Granny Savidge Reads who, after reading ‘Room’, is a Donoghue fan too.
  • The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund De Waal – I so wasn’t bothered about this when it came out but since winning the Costa Prize and having heard about it all over the place when it arrived I was super chuffed and have started dipping into it already.
  • The Magnificent Spilsbury and the Case of the Brides in the Bath by Jane Robins – I do like true historical crime, modern stuff makes me feel uncomfortable in general – too close to home maybe, but this sounds like its right up my street. Maybe not one to read in the bath though?
  • 31 Bond Street by Ellen Horan – I bought this in Sainsbury’s, bad me, partly because the cover is so good and also thinking it was non-fiction from the blurb, wrong. I will give it a whirl though and see.
  • Half a Life by Darin Strauss – A memoir about accidental murder. I had to sign a confidence clause before I could get the proof for this and then forgot the date had been and gone so will schedule my thoughts to be shared soon.
  • The Long Song by Andrea Levy – I have already read this, however it’s a book group choice in the next few months and I’d had mine signed for my Gran so a new one has magically turned up. I am actually really looking forward to re-reading this one even so soon after I originally did.
  • Dog Binary by Alex MacDonald – I don’t know anything about this, it came with Half a Life.
  • Trick of the Dark by Val McDermid – I am hoping this is another entry for the Green Carnation Prize as we do want a mixture of genres, I don’t think the other judges have had this one though so I will have to check. I have heard McDermid is very good at murder so this should be good.

So lots of books to read while I am in waiting rooms, hospital wards and in bed when I get home over the next few weeks or so which is an utter delight. I wonder how much of a dent in them I will make. I also really need to have a fresh cull and clear out too. It never stops. Have you read any of these books and if so what did you think? Any you would like to see me give priority to if the whim takes me?

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