It is the story of a somewhat quiet and meek young woman who had difficulty making real friends or of finding real purpose. Over the decades, little changed. Her inability to fit in with the other women in the typing pool as a young woman in England was replaced by her inability to fit in with other army wives in India after marrying Tusker or with Indians of their social class after independence. The prospect that Tusker may not have long to live has applied a spur to Lucy as she faces the prospect of being old and alone in India.
After decades of a marriage with little drama or excitement, of no children and few friends, in which she has had little independence and no control over their finances or future, Lucy is finally confident enough to tell Tusker what she really thinks, even if his heart is now too weak to handle it. She had merely been closing her mind to what at a deeper level of consciousness she knew had to be faced. In a year, perhaps sooner, she could be a widow.
She would be alone. She would be alone in Pankot.
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She would be alone in a foreign country. There would be no one of her own kind, her own colour, no close friend by whom to be comforted or on whom she could rely for guidance. The question whether she would be virtually destitute was one that frightened her so much that even her sub-conscious mind had been keeping that fear buried deep. It won the Booker Prize in , though Scott could not receive the prize in person as he was too ill from the colon cancer that would claim his life some months later, aged only 57 and, it might be argued, at the peak of his writing career.
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It is the tenth Booker Prize winner I have read and I would count it among my favourites of those. Beginning at a quick pace and slowing through the middle, it picks up pace again in the last section, peaking with some of the funniest and saddest passages of the whole novel. For my reviews of the Raj Quartet novels, see here. I read The Jewel in the Crown many years ago, but never went on to read the rest of the quartet, and have meaning to read them for ages.
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Like Liked by 1 person. If you are wary of reading three more novels before getting to the one you are most keen on, there is an alternative that I should have mentioned in my post — you could track down and watch the DVD of the Jewel in the Crown miniseries.
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- Staying On.
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Contradictory as it may sound, this melancholy is only deepened by Scott's talent for comedy. Tusker is a selfish old curmudgeon — a foolish, petty man who treats his loyal wife appallingly — but he's so amusing it's impossible not to warm to him. There's something almost heroic about his habit of getting drunk at inappropriate times, his dignity after a pratfall and his near-total refusal to engage with the world around him.
He is someone who can watch his wife struggling over the knitting of a jumper for months, and only complain about the pattern and colours when he gets it for Christmas. Their relationship may be founded on a platform of almost constant bickering, but we come to understand why Lucy loves Tusker: why she reaches for his hand in the night when she wants to laugh, why she can't bear to be without him, and why she treasures the one "love letter" he gives her, even though its only admission of affection is, "You've been a decent wife to me.
As a portrait of a marriage, the book is a triumph. Less effective is the investigation of the new capitalists in India. The Indian woman who represents them, Mrs Bhoolabhoy — the landlady who has the Smalleys under her control — is a caricature. Enormously fat, greedy and interested "only in the here and now and how this might be arranged to her advantage", she is often amusing but never entirely believable. She's no more unpleasant than her English predecessors, but is too absurd and shallow to resonate. It's a small flaw in an otherwise compelling book. And even if the treatment is slightly clumsy, this remains a vivid portrait of the final servants of the Raj written by one of their last near contemporaries.
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Buy from. Read more. Share at. More from this Author. About the Author. Paul Scott Paul Scott was born in London in Sign up to the Penguin newsletter For the latest books, recommendations, offers and more. Please enter an email. Please enter a valid email address.