Friday, 18 July 2014

A Passage to India

After spontaneously deciding to give A Room With a View a try, and absolutely loving it, I didn't see how I could regret trying another Forster novel. I can't remember exactly when I bought this one, but I do know that I've been wanting to read it for ages.

This one is:

A Passage to India


E.M. Forster


Classic. Also has airs of travel and politics about it, but really doesn't particularly lend itself to a single genre.

One-sentence summary:

In India, relations are stable but strained between the Indians and the English, but one event sends pretence crumbling down and reveals the heart of both sets of people, as well as India itself.


I think the thing I admire the most about Forster's writing is his refusal to reduce anything or anyone to absolutes. None of his characters are straightforward or cut and dried. They all possess various flaws and various levels of sincerity, which shift and change as the book progresses. The writer is not afraid to have his characters profoundly change, and not in a way that feels comfortable or reassuring. He doesn't show the 'darker side of man', but rather the disconcerting middle ground where misunderstanding is rife, and man's nuanced desires, adherence to convention (or lack thereof), muddled views, and mixed loyalties are explored. Nothing is simple, especially not people's relationships to one another, which, in fact, seem infinitely complex and changeable. I was especially fascinated with Dr Aziz's relationship to Mrs Moore. It was not based on anything substantial, but his internal state seemed to mirror hers somehow. I hated the change in her character towards the middle of the book, though it was wonderfully written and hugely evocative. It just gave me the impression of decay and despair.

This also ties in with the author's willingness - even his enthusiasm - to say the unsayable. He pushes his characters further than you want them to be pushed, and creates situations that ring profoundly true. And he also, with this lack of black-and-white distinctions between 'good' and 'bad', lays the story bare, devoid of attempts to steer the reader towards sympathies. Even Fielding, who supposedly holds a more enlightened attitude and is probably the most sympathetic of all of them, is only like that by chance.
He had no racial feeling - not because he was superior to his brother civilians, but because he had matured in a different atmosphere, where the herd-instinct does not flourish.
No character escapes having these inner truths exposed, and none escape change either.

The plot, though it does exist, is really quite minimal, and the story is much more one of shifts within and between the characters. But another aspect of the book is its deeply atmospheric writing. Each page is packed with minute and mundane observations; not on a descriptive or even physical level, but instead cutting to the core of the human condition. He writes profound truths while seeming to write simplicities (too often it's the other way round!).

While reading this, I could sense the heat and the oppressive echo of Forster's India, and the country, vast and untameable, felt almost like a character in itself. This impression of India, while extremely real-feeling, was certainly different to that of an actual Indian writer, but was still no less valid. After finishing this book (and, in fact, during), I found myself lost in its world, and it took me quite a while to snap out of it.

Final thoughts

I found this book incredibly immersive, and Forster's writing throughout it is spectacular. All the characters and situations are nuanced and nothing stays constant, reflecting a reality that is often smoothed over in books. Some of the changes left me with profound feelings of sadness or discomfort, which is why I'm not sure just yet if this will feature among my favourite books... But it certainly shows a level of brilliance in the writing.

I'm going to award it a rare

What did you think of A Passage to India? Did you agree with my review? Do you have any suggestions of equally evocative books written by Indians? Let me know in the comments.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...