(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Shame is a modern Arabian Nights fable set against a thinly disguised real background. The central symbolic figure is the simpleminded Sufiya (a name meaning “wisdom”). Her father, a rapidly rising army officer, is ashamed because his firstborn child is a girl. Her mother sees Sufiya’s simplemindedness (the result of a fever in infancy) as a sign of her own shame, retribution for an extramarital affair. Sufiya, a congenital blusher, becomes a sponge who soaks up the shame of those around her and of those who feel no shame but should. Shame accumulates in the simple mind of the Beauty who is gradually transformed into the Beast of violence.

The Beast first breaks through when twelve-year-old Sufiya bites off the heads of and eviscerates 218 turkeys. Episodes of violence are followed by a rebellion of the body’s immune system, which leaves her mortally ill. Dr. Omar Khayyam Shakil, a famous immunologist (and notorious libertine), saves her and falls in love with the ungainly, slow-witted girl. After some years, they marry, but the marriage is not consummated. The struggle within her body continues, and four young men are found beheaded and bespattered with semen stains. Dr. Shakil realizes what is happening and approaches Sufiya’s father, General Raza Hyder, who is now President. They agree to keep her sedated in an attic room, from which she eventually escapes. Rumors of a white panther circulate throughout the countryside. Sufiya’s...

(The entire section is 583 words.)