Newest Review: ... only play the piano and arrange pretty flowers? It would not suit me I am afraid. Olivia's character was developed realistically and her s... more
LETS GET ALL HOT AND DUSTY!
Heat and Dust - Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Member Name: dawnymarie
Heat and Dust - Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Date: 30/08/11, updated on 14/03/12 (123 review reads)
Advantages: SUBTLE PASSION RISES IN THE HEAT AND DUST!
Disadvantages: NONE FOR ME!
Firstly, many thanks to Sue (Catsholiday) for reviewing so beautifully and introducing me to this book. I have never visited India but the country and culture fascinate me - this book appealed to me because of the location and the intriguing story that it promised to tell. The title did not reveal much to me but it soon became obvious of it's relevance. I looked forward to immersing myself in this prize winning novel.
1923 and bored Olivia is living in the district of Satipur with her husband, Douglas, who is a civil servant. Blonde, attractive and desperate for entertainment Olivia finds herself becoming increasingly attracted to the neighbouring Nawar (Indian Prince). Dashingly handsome and quirky in nature the Nawar is enchanting to most who occupy his company - Olivia is no exception.
Fifty years later we join Olivia's great step granddaughter on her journey in India - which has striking similarities to Olivia's. She will not rest until she discovers the mystery behind the events that occurred all those years ago. Why did Olivia disappear in a cloud of scandal which embarrassed her husband and the English society within India?
LETS GET ALL HOT AND DUSTY
In 1923, Satipur, India we meet one of the main protagonists - Olivia. Written in the third person I found that I soon settled into the prose. Living in the lap of luxury, and attended by Indian servants, the beautiful young woman spends her days playing the piano and waiting for Douglas, her handsome husband, to return home from his work as a civil servant. The highlight of her day is conversation and, hopefully, affection from this important and busy guy. I warmed to Olivia sooner than I imagined I would. She is spoiled and apathetic occasionally but considering how she was expected to live - like a caged bird - it is not surprising that she may have a little sulk every now and then. Her life has no reason or structure - I found it easy to empathise with her when she became irritable and began grasping and searching for anything or anyone that would bring her some joy in life. Olivia was in love with Douglas - that was obvious and he with her but is that really enough? I contemplated the concept of existing alone in a house all day every day with nothing to do only play the piano and arrange pretty flowers? It would not suit me I am afraid. Olivia's character was developed realistically and her situation was believable - living in a foreign country, not fully understanding the politics and the only available friendships being rather serious minded mature women - it was of no surprise to me that this girl would become excitable and intoxicated by the enchanting and stunningly handsome Indian Prince who was known as Nawar.
Some fifty years later we meet the step great granddaughter of Olivia - this section of the prose is presented in the first person. I was immediately comfortable with the comprehension and the plot line flowed well - nestled in between the former. This young woman, the other main protagonist, was easier for me to identify with as she is nearer to my own generation. Intriguing letters that Olivia wrote have fallen into this young woman's possession and she makes it her mission to trace Olivia's tracks and discover the truth behind the scandal. There are some similarities in the experiences of both this woman and Olivia - Indian culture remains unchanged in the most part but the choices that this modern woman makes in comparison to Olivia are thought provoking - women have become stronger and have independence and a confidence that was lacking in Olivia. Indeed this young ladies traits were rather impressive. She had compassion and was not afraid to show it or take action because of it, which I really admired. She was selfless, tenacious, assertive and confident. As she settled into the unique environment that is Satipur she adapted to the dirt, clutter, poverty, poor hygiene and unusual sleeping habits as well as the colourful, spiritual culture that welcomed her and over time accepted her into their community. She became close friends with her landlord Inder Lal and spent increasing amounts of time with him and his family - there was something about this guy that she connected with and found appealing. Eventually this young girl would happen upon an experience that bears striking resemblance to Olivia's - what is interesting is the decision that each woman made! I reflected on this concept for a while - how things have changed since the 1920's in regard to how a woman is influenced when decision making, it really is incredible!
Throughout the book and within each of the ladies stories there are supporting characters - I found all of them to be interesting and well developed even though for the most part they remain two dimensional. I do have to give Harry a mention - off whom Olivia developed a strong friendship -even if at times her motives where a little selfish. Harry is a sensitive and fragile character who can be quite impulsive and seemingly unsure of what he wants in life - he is easily manipulated by the beguiling Nawar. The inclusion of this character was a stroke of genius in my opinion - he lit up the page with his flamboyant nature and larger than life personality, he made me smile!
The essence of India is captured and portrayed beautifully within this composition - the title of the book 'heat and dust' is described in such a way that you can imagine how difficult it would be to tolerate extreme heat that exhausted you and brought with it flies and pests amid the dirty paths around the town - along with that is the dust that can be carried along on a wind and cover the surroundings with layers of dirt and dust. When reading the prose of the 1920's and 50 years later I found it easy to envisage the surroundings that are expressed. One favourite place that is visited by both Olivia and her step great granddaughter is appealing to me - Baba Firdau's grove. Hidden within the undergrowth is a shrine that draws many to it to make a wish on a special day in the year known as The Husbands Wedding Day. The walk to it in the heat and dust is unbearable and exhausting but on arrival the heat is kept at bay - the area is sheltered and a pleasant temperature, it is spiritual and special. I enjoyed reading this part of the book in particular as I did get a sense of how very beautiful and peaceful this area was.
The plot lines ran neatly along side each other and it was always obvious which year I was reading about. The themes were interesting and maintained my interest in the prose - they include passion, romance, betrayal, paternalism, spirituality, suffering, pain, cultural diversity, conflict and compassion. The prose moves at a nice pace throughout though I wouldn't say that I was turning the pages quickly - it wasn't that kind of a read as it was more thought provoking. Nearing the end of the prose, as I discovered what happened to cause the scandal regarding Olivia, I was really impressed by the subtle and sensitive way that the subject was covered and it was then that the similarity in experiences with her step great granddaughter became obvious. The emphasis here is on subtle - the outcome doesn't whack you in the face and it really works. It suits the whole mood and feel of the prose and does not disappoint, this is the first book that I have read with an ending in this style - in my opinion this is a clever piece of writing!
BITS AND BOBS
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IS IT RECOMMENDED TO GO INTO HEAT AND DUST?
A story that unfolds beautifully and introduces you to the spiritual and unique country that is India. You will become acquainted with Olivia - a young woman who is desperate for attention, entertainment, fun - a life! Though shallow, selfish and at times apathetic this lady also has compassion. I warmed to her rather quickly and hoped for a happy outcome to her quest. As she see's less of her husband due to his work load this encourages her to be more reckless and seek out the company of he who pays her great attention, he whose eyes do not leave her when she is in his company - the Nawar. Some 50 years later Olivia's step great granddaughter follows the scandal of Olivia's involvement with the Nawar - intrigued by the culture, spirituality and locals in Satipur she stays longer and longer as she follows the trail of Olivia's experiences - unbeknown to her she is heading for a similar encounter of her own! The main protagonists are well rounded and the traits are believable - I warmed to both women - especially the step great granddaughter whose compassion and kind heart was evident. The plot lines are complex and filled with themes such as conflict, passion and betrayal - always a page turner! The descriptive prose was beautiful and enabled me to imagine the surroundings, smells and sounds easily even though I have never visited India. The prose develops well and the ending is satisfactory - even though it is crafted with subtle sensitivity. A really enjoyable read! Recommended!
THANKS FOR THAT!
Thank you kindly for reading - hopefully you have found the review helpful. Also published on CIAO.
Summary: BEAUTIFULLY CRAFTED PROSE!