sometimes witty book reviews
Books salvaged from a library’s CANCELLED bin can be a bit hit and miss. A lot of the time they’re most enjoyed as props for wobbly college-room furniture (especially if they’re old marketing textbooks or a 1990s journal on the state of student socialism in Chicago) but sometimes you find a gem.
My edition of The Householder (1960) by Ruth Prawar Jhabvala is just such a treasure. Written before she won her Booker Prize, Oscars or Academy Awards, this little known short story captures the emerging genius that would soon take the short-story and screen writing world by storm (you’ll probably already know her writing from the 1985 movie adaptation of E.M Forster’s A Room with a View).
Set in 1960s India, The Householder concerns the daily life of Prem – a young man recently married to a woman he met once before their wedding day, living in a tiny flat above his landlord and teaching Hindi to disinterested students at a second-rate private school for boys. He is an anxious and unsure young man with (many) more troubles than friends. He can barely afford the rent, the servant boy does not often work, his wife Indu is pregnant and to top it off his mother is coming to stay – indefinitely.
139 pages is all it takes for Jhabvala to completely immerse you in the life and struggles of lower-middle class, 1960s India and she does so without exploiting the West’s ugly penchant for ‘the exotic.’ In fact, the most exotic character is a yoga-obsessed German tourist whom Prem (and the reader) finds irritating and totally bonkers.
This vignette of Prem and his trials conveys the specificities of a life that could only be lived in India while exploring the universal experience of growing up, finding one’s place and, more importantly, one’s self. If you’re not convinced by my enamoured ramblings then at least let me recommend it to you because it’s funny.
You will laugh – trust.