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A new dominion

Author:Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Published: 1983
In: Granada

When we were orphans had put me in the mood for reading about culture clashes, and I had a couple of secondhand paperback Ruth Prawer Jhabvala novels on my shelf waiting to be read. RPJ is good fallback reading for me as I find her carefully constructed character novels very comfortable fare--the sort of thing that's good 'downtime' reading between incredibly distinctive or original novels. That sounds bad, but really I'm so glad I discovered her.

As usual, A new dominion is about the clash of East and West in India. In this novel, a Western girl falls under the influence of a lecherous guru, an Indian princess languishes around causing trouble, and an English gay guy (or 'aesthete' as the blurb puts it!) crushes on a hot Indian student who is oblivious to the nature of his desire. A solid premise! I thoroughly enjoyed it--I think it's probably my favourite RPJ so far, though I always say that upon finishing, and then they all blur into one in my memory. I particularly enjoyed Sister Margaret, a nun whose common sense attitude is a great contrast to the emotional social tangles the others get themselves into, and who retains a strong sense of her self. Unlike the other characters, she does not long for some communion with 'otherness'--and since the search for this communion either fails or has devastating results for the other characters, she works as a pleasant alternative within the novel. It's possible to read an 'agenda' in this novel--it's social commentary, and it works. RPJ captures the way that a guru or spiritual leader may capture the attention and imagination of an individual to such an extent that they lose all perspective and endanger themselves. The cynicism was ok for me, though I don't necessarily agree that it's valid in all instances. And RPJ does counterbalance with other narrative threads that suggest greater complexity to the relationship of teacher and disciple. RPJ moves around different characters in third-person limited and conveys the way that each character is acting unconsciously.

Verdict: Predictably, a good read.
Tags: books, collection

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