R. K. Narayan | Critical Review by Neil Millar

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of R. K. Narayan.
This section contains 684 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Review by Neil Millar

SOURCE: "A Piquant Infusion of India," in Christian Science Monitor, Vol. 62, No. 72, February 19, 1970, p. 10.

In the following review, Millar discusses the character studies in the stories of Narayan's A Horse and Two Goats.

Mother India has many gentle children. This book [A Horse and Two Goats] is written with the gentleness of strength.

R. K. Narayan is a novelist of distinction who follows no trend but humanity, no vision but his own—kindly, level, comical, moved.

A Horse and Two Goats is a collection of short stories, all (one suspects) wholly Indian in spirit. Each of them is a character study, a glint of mankind, an infusion of India.

The surface is comedy and tragicomedy. Sometimes grief lies under it, but never despair. And each story deserves to be read at least twice—in an age when much contemporary fiction may not deserve to be read once.

Mr. Narayan's quiet, almost insidious prose makes it clear that his world is not ours, although part of ours may be part of his. But his world is available to us, an achievement made possible by his skill and by the common humanity of both worlds.

Not that the author's people are especially common; his main actors are all eccentrics in one way or another. (Who isn't?) They teach us lessons for or about ourselves. Perhaps all credible tales of possible people do that.

Some of the lessons are incidental. In the tale which names the book, a destitute goatherd is given 100 rupees—$7.50 in United States currency—a sum which seems to him almost a fortune. (How enormously wealthy are we who can afford to buy a book every week and a full meal every day!) But this story's light is made to glance off many subjects other than destitution and riches—success and failure, for example, India and America, sculpture in public places, courtesy, and the failure to communicate.

Poverty hangs on the bright Indian air, but nobody seems to be polluted by it—at least, not to the point of self-pity or opting out of the world. Most of Mr. Narayan's characters are eager to opt in.

In the longest story, "Uncle," a man looks back on his childhood and the fat, mysterious guardian who cherished him. There have been sinister mutterings about the uncle's past, but the nephew does not investigate them, does not even want to know if they are true. Did the uncle—if he was an uncle—gamble away his protégé's inheritance? Did it matter? One thing was certain in the fog of doubt: the man loved the boy.

To read this story is to walk or dart through infancy again, viewing the strange and sometimes terrifying adult world through childhood's bold or anxious eyes.

The next story is a character study of the gardener Annamalai, grumpy, loyal, pathetic, an elderly strong man sorely tried by a distant brother and a near neighbor, a comic figure, and a mystery in his own right. This tale has a half-hidden villain, and it is the narrator.

"A Breath of Lucifer" concerns a hospital attendant, a male nurse, a man of imagination. Although probably a fraud, he is a competent artisan at his noble craft and an incompetent amateur of the ignoble bottle. We never see him, but we know him.

And lastly Krishna, a young man deeply in love with his wife. She is ill: her cheerfully inept physician is unconcerned. Her husband consults an astrologer, who suggests therapeutic immorality in order to appease the wrath of Mars. In loyalty to his beloved, Krishna should be unfaithful to her.

Hapless Krishna! He does his best to do his worst, to dishonor his marriage in order to save his wife, but miserably fails to find a partner in well-intentioned sin. Mournfully he returns home. The story ends there. So does this calm, delicate, adult quintette of poignant comedies.

They open windows into one man's half-invented world. They handle their strength gently. If their sorrow comes gift-wrapped in a smile, the smile is genuine and the sorrow unemphasized, almost unacknowledged.

Every one of Mr. Narayan's unconscious comedians is believable and even likable. Their author loves them all.

This illumines them.

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This section contains 684 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Neil Millar