Friday, November 13, 2015

The Jewel in the Crown - book 1, The Raj Quartet

In an effort to read more diversely and educate myself about the world beyond the horizon, I have taken up India as place to start.  Last year it was E.M. Forster's A Passage to India and Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth.  This year I decided to start Paul Scott's renowned Raj Quartet, and first book in the series is The Jewel in the Crown.

Right off the bat, I noticed a fair number of similarities between A Passage to India and The Jewel in the Crown.  Passage to India was first published in 1924 and is set in the 1920s; Jewel in the Crown was first published in 1966 and is set during WWII.

They both deal with the alleged rape of an English girl who has befriended an Indian man; in both cases, the alleged rape takes place in a physical setting that comes to symbolize the relationship between India and Britain--the Malabar Caves in the case of Passage to India, and the Bibighar Gardens in The Jewel in the Crown.  As expected, they both deal with race, class, prejudice, and self-worth. The alleged rape victim in both is a somewhat awkward spinster--part of the British ruling class, but outside of it as well.  Finally, both books unfold the story obliquely--time frames and points of view shift, providing the reader with only a fragmented view of the story at any given time.  With both books, the reader is put in the position of synthesizing those fragments to come up with what the true story really is.

All that said, I found The Jewel in the Crown to be the better, more memorable, more compelling story.  Maybe that's because I found the two main characters, Daphne Manners and Hari Kumar, neither of whom really don't come strongly into view into mid-way through the book, to be so interesting.  Hari is truly a man without a country, lost in the cracks of national and cultural and tribal identity.  I found his story heartbreaking in the way that Greek and Shakespearean tragedies are heartbreaking--the arc of his life was inevitable and it seemed that free will was nothing more than a pretty notion in this story.

I also liked the narrative approach Scott utilized.  The narrator seemed to be an investigative reporter seeking to uncover the truth of what happened to Daphne Manners in the Bibighar Gardens many years later.  The premise was interviewing various people who played major as well as relatively minor parts in the story, and included letters, journals, memoirs, and other pieces of "evidence."  I really like this approach and Scott did it without requiring that his narrator have a backstory himself, which gave the novel a documentary feel.

I'm looking forward to reading book 2 in the Raj Quartet, The Day of the Scorpion.  And since the mini-series is apparently about all four books, I will have to wait awhile before watching it.

Final India note--still watching Indian Summers on PBS, though not enthralled with it.  Maybe because I like the story line of Jewel in the Crown so much more and they ended up competing with each other.

And yes, reading Jewel in the Crown counts towards a reading challenge...TBR Pile Challenge.

Hari, Daphne and nasty Ronald Merrick from the mini-series.


  1. I have read the Raj Quartet more than once, and have watched the mini- series many times. They are both extremely good and I think give an honest view of the British at that time in India. I did watch it before reading the books but that was because I saw the original airing, back in the day. It spurred me on to read the books for a deeper understanding of the story. I agree with all you have said so far and look forward to hearing your views ad you read on.

  2. Enjoyed this book, then I watched the TV series

  3. A Passage to India is one of my favorite novels ever. When you say that you likes this better it gets my attention!

    The plots do sound similar. I was most impressed by the metaphysical musings in A Passage to India but the plot of this book sounds compelling. But the plot of this one sounds compelling.

  4. I remember my sister reading these books and really liking them...but then she's really into books about India. I've read A Passage to India, and thought it is pretty good. Hope you enjoy the second one was much as this one!

  5. This sounds wonderful and like something I would love to read. Thank-you for the great review! I read A Passage to India around 15 years ago or so and I loved it. This does sound even better. I'm putting it on my "to read" list.

  6. Your highly relevant comparison of Forster and Scott made a fascinating discussion of these two highly charged stories. I still tend to favor Forster, for his subtle handling of point of view, showing the reader how one character misinterprets the actions and character of another, time and again. Forster's greatness surely influenced Scott's treatment of his story, as you note with their timeline. At the same time, I agree that the characters of Daphne and Hari are especially sympathetic and their plight is so memorable. The miniseries was wonderful! What a treat to have that waiting for you!