My Nine Lives: Chapters of a Possible Past by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala - review by Francis King

Francis King

The Girls She Might Have Been

My Nine Lives: Chapters of a Possible Past


John Murray 277pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

A SIMPLE DESCRIPTION of this book is easy: it is a collection of nine short stories by someone who has long since proved herself to be a master of the genre. But, in what she calls an 'Apologia', Jhabvala herself provides a more complex description. 'These chapters', she writes, 'are potentially autobiographical. . . . Every situation was one I could have been in myself, and sometimes, to some extent, was.' She goes on to suggest that, in their composition, she may have been 'trying out alternative destinies', not for fictional characters but for herself.

The collection has two constants. Firstly, the narrator of every story has a Jewish, Central European background. Secondly, the setting is always one of the three places - England, the United States and India - between which Jhabvala has divided a life of exile. It was, of course, with India

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