- Reviewed by
Midnight's Children, Clear Light of Day, Trotter-nama, The Great Indian Novel, Shadow Lines, to name a few Indian novels of the last decade, have ushered in a new phase in the development of the genre. As Kirpal points out in her introduction, these novels break away from the earlier narrative tradition established by such writers as R. K. Narayan, Raja Rao, Mulk Raj Anand, and Manohar Malgaonkar. The new novels are, for Kirpal, characterized by their "lack of staidness" and "solemnity"; they are determined to experiment with new forms and "to break with shibboleths." Kirpal and many of the contributors to this collection identify Midnight's Children (1981) as the starting point of this narrative revolution that combines postmodernism and the Indian oral narrative tradition.
Kirpal brings together twenty-seven essays by twenty-two scholars (most of whom are Indian) in this collection that surveys a wide range of novels. The collection is divided into three sections: "The Old Masters," "The Middle Generation," and "Towards A Poetics of The New Indian Novel." The last section is rather disappointing; the contributors are unable to free themselves of the overpowering presence of Rushdie (four out of the seven essays in this section focus on him). Despite this preoccupation with Rushdie, little that is new is said about his works. Sometimes the essays tend to be rather basic in their enumeration of the obvious characteristics of Rushdie's work. However, Feroza Jussawalla's essay on The Satanic Verses in this section is interesting for its discussion of Rushdie's "Joycean word-play" that "is less an exploration of artisitc techniques than a cover for political or racial attitudes that the author holds."
The preoccupation with Rushdie also infects "The Middle Generation" section of this collection (three essays). Essays on Anita Desai's Clear Light of Day and In Custody also dominate this book (five essays). Yet, significant novels like I. Allan Sealy's Trotter-nama (1988), Shashi Tharoor's The Great Indian Novel (1989), and Anita Desai's Baumgartner's Bombay (1988) are left unrepresented; the complex narratives of Tharoor and Sealy definitely require significant critical attention. Despite these omissions, this collection of essays should be praised for its range of authors and novels. At least one essay is devoted to the following authors: Amitav Ghosh, Nayantara Sahgal, Shashi Deshpande, Namita Gokhale, Upamanyu [End Page 334] Chatterjee, Pratap Sharma, Arun Joshi, Ranga Rao, and Vikram Seth. Unfortunately, the lack of space in this review prevents me from discussing each essay.
This book is valuable because it is the first (to my knowledge) to bring together essays on the recent Indian English novels. It is also significant because it brings together many Indian academics on the subject. It must be pointed out, however, that many of these academics seem unaware of the scholarship in the West on the Indian novel in English, especially the growing body of scholarship on Rushdie and Desai. Despite its flaws, this book is valuable for the exposure it gives to the new novels in English from India.
Before I end this review, I must point out that Allied Publishers needs to pay more attention to its book production. Not only is this one badly proof-read, but it is also wrongly collated. My copy goes from page 32 to page 113 and then resumes at 49 and so on. Much as this lack of linearity in pagination is rather symbolic of the nonlinear narrative mode of the new Indian novel in English, I doubt that this pagination means anything but sloppy production!