My records show me that once upon a time I read one of Anita Desai’s novels and I have a residual feeling that I very much enjoyed it, although I have no memory at all of the actual content of the story. When looking for another book for my 60 books from 60 years challenge I came up with Clear Light of Day and thought that I would read it to see if the author was as good as I faintly remembered – she is.
This book is about an Indian family and set in the present day (at the time of writing) and around the time of Partition. The story starts with Tara returning to her family home bringing with her also her snobbish husband who really wants them to be staying somewhere more prestigious. She is travelling to a wedding at the home of her older brother. Remaining at home is Bim who has never married and has cared for their brother who has a learning disability and an aged aunt. Bim wishes she had left and Tara wishes she had stayed at home.
The book then takes the reader back through the years in steps to when the four children of the family were young and when disagreements began. The book also links to major events on Indian history and the family and their neighbours are affected by things outside the home. By the end of the book we return to the most recent period but now we realise why the family is shaped the way that they are and we understand that each of them have had hopes and dreams which none of them has seen fulfilled. Despite that, this is not a sad book but a story about making the best of what you have and where you are.
The joy of this book is in how the author conveys the lives of this family in such a short story – many writers would have created a fat book out of the material that we are offered in this slim volume. Yet I felt that every word was carefully chosen to build that story and that the author had created an atmospheric framework that the reader fills in for themselves. The descriptions of the landscape and the way of life are captivating.
I really enjoyed this book. I found that it was a story beautifully told full of people that seemed very real.