Anita Desai is among the more prominent Indian English novelists of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. With her first novel, Cry, the Peacock (1963), she added a new psychological dimension to Indian English fiction. Desai was probably the first Indian English novelist to be concerned primarily with the inner lives of her characters—their fleeting moods, wisps of memory, subtle cerebrations. In her novels, Desai succeeds in capturing these evanescent moments of consciousness, preserving them from oblivion and investing them with the permanence of art. The result is that Desai not only creates something of value for herself out of the endless flux of her own psyche but also provides for readers the opportunity to share this rich inner life through her characters.
Desai’s stylistic accomplishment is noteworthy as well. Unlike many other Indian English novelists, Desai does not find it necessary to experiment with language. In her novels, no clash between English, her medium of expression, and the Indian subject matter is apparent. Indeed, her use of the language is natural and unselfconscious. Her writing is both supple and precise. Though each sentence is carefully crafted, the overall manner is easy, not precious or labored. Stylistically, Desai is thus in the mainstream of twentieth century English novelists.
Desai is a writer of considerable achievement, perhaps the best contemporary Indian English woman novelist. Critical interest in her work has grown steadily since her first novel was published. She received the Royal Society of Literature Winifred Holtby Prize in 1978 and the Sahitya Akademi of India Award in 1979; she has been a member of the Sahitya Akademi English Board since 1972, a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature since 1978, a fellow of Girton College, Cambridge, and a visiting fellow at Balliol College, Oxford. For The Village by the Sea she received the Guardian Award for children’s fiction in 1982. Her novels Clear Light of Day, In Custody, and Fasting, Feasting were all short-listed for the Booker Prize.