As is the case in Desai’s other novels, Fire on the Mountain is more memorable for its characters than for its plot or “action.” In fact, plot is important only in terms of what it reveals about the characters, Desai’s primary concern. Desai focuses not so much on physical appearance—unless it reflects an inner reality or serves a symbolic purpose—as on her characters’ inner lives. Nanda, the protagonist, is a case in point, for Desai tells her readers little about Nanda’s appearance but does tell the readers, through the use of a stream of consciousness narrative technique, much about her thoughts, values, fears, suppressed hostility, and unconscious need for love.
Carignano, Nanda’s “retreat,” suggests Nanda’s determination to withdraw from her former active life, replete with its duties, obligations, and roles. Among the roles she rejects is the role as sacrificing nurturer of others: “The care of others . . . had been a religious calling she had believed in till she found it fake.” At the end of part 1, she pleads, “Discharge me. I’ve discharged all my duties.” In her desire to simplify her life, Nanda “jettisons” her past, strips it to its necessities, and attempts to reject other people. Like Carignano, she is “barren,” and like the garden, through age and “withering away” she has arrived at a “state of elegant perfection.” The setting is both “perfected and natural” in that she has...
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