In an interview in The Observer three years after her 1975 Booker Prize win with Heat and Dust (now reissued by Abacus), Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, then in her fifties, said: ‘I sometimes wonder what I’ll be doing at 80.’ The answer is this: delivering a masterclass in storytelling and writing beautiful, luminous prose.
The stories in this collection exploit traditional structures, usually a small cast of characters, with settings that range from Bombay Bollywood palaces in the 1950s, upstate New York during the AIDS crisis, tacky fundraising banquets in Hollywood and vast, gilded apartments in uptown Manhattan to shabby New York holes infested with mice and cockroaches and the polluted urban crush of India. Prawer Jhabvala crosses class, cultural and sexual boundaries with ease; she presents homosexual characters, both repressed gay men ensconced with their mothers and elegant queers comfortable in the world and with themselves. She chooses to dramatise intense family relationships and claustrophobic situations: mothers clutching their grown-up sons; marriages gone wrong or lasting for decades; possessive odd couples, such as the brother and sister in ‘The New Messiah’ who share a bedroom and hold hands lightly across the twin beds. A cleverly suggestive portrait of an ageing Bollywood