Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Guide by R. K. Narayan (1958)

R. K. Narayan (1906 to 2004) is one of my favorite writers.  I love his short stories and novels, most of them set in the imaginary South Indian community of Malgudi.  I find his prose style an addictive delight, his characterizations brilliant and the plot action of his work always keeps me wanting to see what will happen next. 

The Guide is his consensus best novel.  Of the eight I have so far read, I agree with this.   The Guide is the longest of his novels and really is a rich wonderful work.  David Gorda has provided a very interesting introduction to the Penguin edition in which he points out a very marked difference in the work of Narayan to most other well known Indian novelists.  Most modern Indian novels focus on the dark turmoil, the teeming slums, the terrible corruption found in the Indian mega-cities.  They are eager to show us the ugly side of Indian life.    Narayan instead focuses on simple family issues, daily life, food, making a living, being Hindi, married life (Narayan in just a few lines can bring the dynamics of a marriage to life), and relationships between people.  One if the common elements found in much of his work is how differing perceptions of the same thing can greatly impact relationships.   As one reads more in his work we come to see how the community of Malguidi works. 

 The central character is a shop keeper in a rail road station who doubles as a guide for tourists.  He knows all the various points of interest and is an expert on sizing people up in terms of how much money they will spend.   There are lots of twists and turns in the plot.  He somehow gets a reputation as a wise swami and begins to cultivate the appearance and manner of a guru who can solve all problems.   Then one fatal day a man interested in cave paintings and his classical dancer wife hire him as their guide.  He soon becomes indispensable to the man while starting an affair with his wife.  The novel goes deeply into the culture of dancing women, on the one hand a highly respected profession but many, especially house wives, regard them almost on the level of "public women".  I do not want to tell too much of the plot but we see the guide go from poverty, to riches and back again.   

The Guide truly is a great novel.  I am currently reading the author's 1938 work The Dark Room and hope to post on it soon.   

Mel u

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