Publisher: John Murray
Length: 192 pages
About: Tracing 50 year old Indian scandal
Style: 1st & 3rd person
When: 1920s & 1970s
Set in India, Heat and Dust is the story of Olivia, a beautiful, spoiled, bored English colonial wife in the 1920s who is drawn inexorably into the spell of the Nawab, a minor Indian prince deeply
involved in plots and intrigues. Olivia outrages the tiny, suffocating town where her husband is a civil servant by eloping with the captivating Nawab. It is also the story of Olivia’s
step-granddaughter who, fifty years later, is drawn to India by her fascination with the letters left behind by the now dead older woman, and by her obsession with solving the enigma of Olivia’s
Douglas' voice, firm and manly, rose above the rest. When he spoke, the others confined themselves to murmurs of agreement. He must have made some jokes, because every now and again they all
laughed in polite unison. Sometimes he seemed to speak rather more sternly and then the murmurs became very low and submissive till he made another joke whereupon they dissolved in relieved laughter.
It was almost as if Douglas were playing a musical instrument of which he had entirely mastered the stops.
This is a short novel but an extraordinarily rich one…. The major and minor themes of fertility and of suttee, the woman's final act of self-sacrifice, are both beautifully and lightly handed. The
novel moves to its close with a casualness suited to the diary form round which it is constructed yet with a very real sense of attainment.
Brigid Allen, Times Literary Supplement, 7th January 1975
Not so good:
The novel was entertaining enough but ultimately too neat for me. I’ve read other books that were more instructive on Indian culture and tradition and on the ways and means of the British Raj and
its aftermath. Perhaps the focus on women was what grabbed the judges. I don’t know. This book was not one I would have awarded a prize to—particularly in a year when the judges saw fit to nominate
only two books.
Reading the Bookers, June Starr, 22nd August 2011 for full review click
About the author
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala was born in May 1927 in Germany. In 1984 she won a BAFTA award for Best Screenplay for the Merchant Ivory filmed adaptation of Heat and Dust. In 1986, she received the Academy
Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for A Room With a View and in 1990 she won the Best Screenplay Award from the New York Film Critics Circle for Mr.& Mrs. Bridge. Jhabvala received an Academy
Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Howards End and was nominated for an Oscar for her adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day.