Central to the novel is the relationship between Krishna and Susila, seen (in life) as total opposites. Krishna is glib, talkative, and inept. He loves to explain books to people, except in those hours when he is paid to do so, and always has an elevating sentiment to turn into poetry. Yet he has no perseverance, is bullied by everyone, and cannot so much as get his wife’s belongings off a train without feelings of inadequacy, camouflaged by authoritativeness. In contrast, his wife is quiet, a slow reader, a careful manager who runs a household on one hundred rupees a month (then about twenty dollars) and still has money, time, and energy to spare. The love between these two opposites is entirely credible and beautifully presented.
After Susila’s death, there is a danger that all other characters will become mere tools and reflections of the central figure, Krishna, who is too absorbed by his own feelings to notice others. This does seem to happen with “the friend,” an unnamed and unexplained figure who sends the hero a note one day to say that he is in touch with Krishna’s dead wife, and from then on does little but conduct experiments in automatic handwriting. Quite soon the friend has virtually disappeared as a character; one notes only the results of the handwriting. The novel is saved partly by the growing prominence of Krishna’s daughter Leela, in whom he comes to recognize something of the grace and good sense of her mother, and partly...
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