R. K. Narayan | Critical Review by Anne Fremantle

This literature criticism consists of approximately 2 pages of analysis & critique of R. K. Narayan.
This section contains 570 words
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Critical Review by Anne Fremantle

SOURCE: "The Nearness of Two Worlds," in Commonweal, Vol. LIX, No. 3, October 23, 1953, pp. 70-71.

In the following review, Fremantle calls Narayan's Grateful to Life and Death "a tour de force, as perfect as it is pure."

Mr. Narayan's first novel, The Financial Expert, was a delicious comedy, subtle and gay. His second book, [Grateful to Life and Death,] about a teacher of English in a college in India, is one of the rare novels dealing with marriage which suggests the truly sacramental nature of the physical relationship. The hero, Krishna, his lovely wife, Susila, and Leela, their little daughter; his parents, her parents, the old family retainers; his colleagues, his friends, the little dusty town where they all live, are delicately chiseled, and the over-all impression is of a filigree carving, in sandalwood or ivory. We see, and smell, the jasmine that Susila always wears, and that is her own identification, the delicious meals she cooks, the horrible stench of the filth that gives her the typhoid from which she dies, and the garlands his friends hang on Krishna when, at the tale's end, he resigns his job, and decides to devote himself to running an eccentric school for small children.

Susila's long illness and death are heartbreakingly described, as are Krishna's stupid, tender clumsiness, and, at the last, his tragic unawareness. Because the fever has fallen he thinks Susila will now recover. So he takes their child for a walk with a small, chattering companion. When they return, the doctor's car is at the door. After telling the distraught husband to "expect a change in about two and a half hours, the doctor turned and walked off. Krishna stood stock still, listening to his shoe creaks going away, the starting of his car; after the car had gone, a stony silence closed in on the house, punctuated by the stentorian breathing, which appeared to [him] the creaking of the hinges of a prison gate, opening at the command of a soul going into freedom."

The dull emptiness, the true hell that is the pain of loss, are movingly recounted. Not since Jules Romains' Le Dieu des Corps has any novel attempted to express the intimacy of the souls of those whose bodies are married. And Mr. Narayan conveys this without ever alluding, even indirectly, to physical love: it is a tour de force, as perfect as it is pure.

The second part of the book describes Krishna's gradual return to life. One day he gets a letter from a stranger "for Krishna whose wife Susila has recently passed over." She wishes to communicate with him, and has chosen this way to do it. Later she teaches her husband how she can reach him directly, and, when he has learned by experience how near the two worlds are, and yet how far apart, he realizes that Susila's nearness, their child's happiness, and a life of recollection are all he needs. So, when his grandmother takes the child to rear her, he and his friends decide to live together as sannyasis, devoted to teaching small children and the effort to live daily an ever more interior life.

The loss of Susila, found again on another level, is echo of the first Krishna's love for Sita and also of Orpheus and Eurydice in our own tradition. Mr. Narayan has written a story for which we, like his hero, may be "grateful."

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This section contains 570 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Anne Fremantle