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Staying On ()

Booker Prize Winners (1977)

If, like me, you've been meaning to read The Raj Quartet, but have been daunted by it's gargantuan bulk, this shorter sequel offers an ideal entree to Paul Scott's Anglo-Indian world.  Here he takes what I understand are two very minor characters from the quartet, Colonel Tusker Smalley and his long-suffering wife Lucy, and makes their story the centerpiece of a sweetly elegiac comic novel.

The year is 1972 and the Smalleys have stayed on in Pankot, India even after Independence in 1947, less out of love of the country or it's people, than out of financial need and sheer spite on Tusker's part.  Where the upper class Brits were able to just scamper home, the Smalleys represent the folk of the middle class, who felt that they had invested something in the colony and now deserved to get something out of it.  As he explains to Lucy:

    I know for years you've thought I was a damn' fool to have stayed on, but I was forty-six when
    Independence came, which is bloody early in life for a man to retire but too old to start afresh
    somewhere you don't know.  I didn't fancy my chances back home, at that age, and I knew the
    pension would go further in India than in England.  I still think we were right to stay on, though I
    don't think of it any longer as staying on , but just as hanging on, which people of our age and
    upbringing and limited talents, people who have never been really poor but never had any real
    money, never inherited money, never made real money, have to do, wherever they happen to be,
    when they can't work anymore.  I'm happier hanging on in India, not for India as India but because
    I just can't merely think of it as a place where I drew my pay for 25 years of my working life,
    which is a hell of a long time anyway, though by rights it should have been longer.

But now, with Tusker's health in decline, Lucy has increasing concerns about her own future.  As is, they have led a pretty precarious existence for the past 15 years, having been reduced to living in a hotel, the new owner of which is a ghastly Indian woman, who married the manager, Mr. Bhoolabhoy, one of Tusker's few remaining friends.  The author etches a finely detailed portrait of his characters and in particular of the difficult marriage of the Smalleys.  Tusker is an irascible curmudgeon straight out of an old British barracks.  Lucy has been disappointed that their relationship did not fulfill her romantic ideals.  These strains are exacerbated by the daily indignities they must now suffer as the last seedy remnants of the departed British Empire, looked down upon by the very natives they once lorded it over.  In the final scenes of the novel, two letters are written which will change these peoples' lives, for better and for worse.

This is a very funny and ultimately a deeply moving story.  The Smalleys are a couple the reader won't soon forget.  I liked it so much, I think I may finally heft that colossal Quartet off of the shelf and give it a go.


Grade: (A-)


Book-related and General Links:
    -Paul (Mark) Scott (1920-1978)(kirjasto)
    -Booker Prize for Fiction 1977
    -BOOK LIST: MODERN NOVELS; THE 99 BEST  (Anthony Burgess, NY Times Book Review)
    -EXCERPT: Part One: Miss Crane  from The Jewel in the Crown (U of Chicago Press)
    -REVIEW: of PAUL SCOTT A Life of the Author of "The Raj Quartet." By Hilary Spurling (Carolyn Kizer, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of AFTER EMPIRE Scott, Naipaul, Rushdie. By Michael Gorra (Brooke Allen, NY Times Book Review)

    -ESSAY: THE SUN NEVER SETS ON THE ENGLISH NOVEL (Michael Gorra, NY Times Book Review)