It is appropriate that the major influence on Clear Light of Day, which has been called Anita Desai’s most complex novel, was the poetry of T. S. Eliot, the American British writer whose intricate works transformed the poetic traditions of the early twentieth century. Desai credits Eliot’s Four Quartets (1943) with having inspired her to write her novel in four sections that, like Eliot’s work, ignore chronology. Clear Light of Day reflects the concept of time suggested in one of the epigraphs to the novel, in which Eliot defines the human experience as a series of dreamlike sequences in which people, places, and the individual all continually appear, vanish, and then reappear. Interestingly, though in that passage Eliot also mentions love, the implication in Clear Light of Day is that neither reason nor the will can cause one person to love another. Instead, love is influenced by seemingly random memories along with the inevitable fact of change.
In Clear Light of Day, Desai traces Bim’s relationship with Raja as it alters through time. In the first section of the book, the adult Bim tells her younger sister Tara that she intends never to see Raja again. Later, she shows Tara a letter that Raja wrote years before; she presents it as providing a rational basis for her feelings. However, in the second part of the novel Desai shows how kind Bim is to Raja during his illness, when, without ever complaining, she takes the primary responsibility for his care. It seems almost unbelievable that within just a few years she would change so radically in her attitude toward her older brother.
In the section devoted to the Das siblings’ childhood, it is evident that when they are very young the two oldest children do have a special bond. It is only when Raja becomes aware of the difference between males and females that he distances himself from Bim, and her sense of rejection is so painful that she deliberately inflicts pain on her sister. Years later, Raja’s move to Hyderabad, his acceptance as a member of Hyder Ali’s family, his preoccupation with his wife and children, and his financial success all contribute to Bim’s growing...
(The entire section is 901 words.)