Stories here exhibit the wide reach of [Jhabvala's] imagination ... Storylines take you into temples bedecked with tinsel, marigolds and peacock feathers, past police barracks where men in vests and shorts oil their beards and wind their turbans...India’s sensuousness sizzles. Colours blaze. Immense dark-blue monsoon clouds release silver torrents of rain ... In one story, westernised Indians joke that they are 'like Chekhov characters'. In fact, most of Jhabvala’s people are ... This collection offers (with detours to Manhattan and Hollywood) a marvellous passage around India.
A posthumous new collection of selected short fiction, At the End of the Century: The Stories of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, showcases [Jhabvala's] darker cadences. The stories — all of them elegantly plotted and unsentimental, with an addictive, told-over-tea quality — are largely character studies of people isolated, often tragically, by custom or self-delusion ... These vivid, unsparing portraits are leavened with the kind of humanizing moments that evoke a total world within their compression ... If her stories have fallen slightly out of fashion, it may be in some part because of this resistance to the soul laid bare. Her characters have little interiority or agency; the fates they run up against tend to feel inexorable, especially in her later stories, in which the ironic distance cools into cynicism ... Jhabvala’s stories are also, of course, unfashionable for another reason: their unabashed ventriloquizing of another culture, an inhabiting of India and Indians that a contemporary author might take pains to artistically justify, all the more so now that our bookshelves are filled with Indian authors writing in English. But this is what surely gives Jhabvala’s work its rare gleam: the undeceived clarity of the eternal outsider, immersed yet apart.
Offers plentiful reasons to celebrate [Jhabvala's] brilliance ... Jhabvala has Alice Munro’s gift for making you feel you’re reading a novel in miniature as she distills to their essence broad expanses of geography, personal history and time. She has a sharp eye for how helplessness can become a weapon in personal relations. She’s also astute on how subtle the shifts in power dynamics between two people can be, and how irrational situations can take on a life and logic of their own ... [Jhabvala] has a healthy respect for the riddles of human behavior. She doesn’t explain contradictions or self-destructive impulses away. She simply presents them as they are: strange, real and troublesome.
Lines that could read as standard Orientalism, here feel more like the opening of a secret. Jhabvala writes how people talk, or how people used to talk. Her stories bespeak a slice of time during which people could both interact with others quite unlike them and talk with the expectation of privacy with people quite like them ... Jhabvala’s blunt characterizations can edge into typecasting. If they haven’t flowered into magnificent birds, the Indian women in these stories tend to lose their beauty to sloth and food, to widen as the European women in the stories never seem to, to bear paan-stained teeth and an animal scent ... Indeed, Jhabvala’s moodiness arguably accounts for her strengths. Her hawkish eye pairs with an intolerance for the sort of romanticism that attends other European chroniclers of India ... The stories she wrote in this later setting, included toward the end of the new collection, lack the unsettling power of her India-set ones.
The cross-currents of Indian and English cultures are wound tightly throughout her stories, and she delves into their far-reaching ramifications. If postcolonialism is an academic study of the cultural legacy of colonialism and imperialism, she was one of its most ardent scholars ... The collection is mammoth in scope ... They’re flawed and compelling enough to give weight to the tides of change and fortune that they stumble into. She’s gifted at shifting her readers’ empathies mid-story ... In their own way, each story furnishes the emotional scope of a novel and encapsulates lives in their entirety. There is an old-fashioned storytelling quality to her voice that evokes classic British and Russian novels ... each character is treated to a deep humanity ... the difficulty in finishing this book was knowing that she’s no longer with us to offer sorely-needed wisdom in a changing world.
Enthralling ... Jhabvala was a spellbinding short story writer of fluid empathy, exceptional cross-cultural insight, and abiding respect for unconventional love ... a richly captivating, revelatory, and important collection.
The opening stories of At the End of the Century introduce Jhabvala’s remarkable economy of expression, devoid of sandalwood-scented, curry-flavored, bangle-clanging exoticism. Jhabvala sketches character, and by implication plot, in a few quick flicks ... Jhabvala’s prose does share Austen’s acerbic wit and a well-cadenced fluency, confident in the strength of syntax to sustain explication—and comedy—without flashy language ... It’s in the later stories in this volume that one becomes aware of how much triangulation pervades Jhabvala’s work. It’s not just classic love triangles, though there are many of those—best portrayed in the collection’s final story, 'The Judge’s Will,' in which a widow discovers the existence of her husband’s longtime mistress. Jhabvala is an artful geometer, and she skews her angles boldly ... These stories, set primarily in New York, are among the weakest in the collection—or maybe it’s that by the time one gets to them the pattern appears formulaic.
The impression one gets from reading Jhabvala's work is that of a sculptor who reuses a favored armature to build nuanced depictions of similar likenesses ... Modern readers accustomed to arresting openings and dramatic clashes will find these stories quaint. Jhabvala's technique was to ease the reader into her stories with deceptively calm passages, a theater apparently devoid of theatricality. The cumulative effect, however, can be devastating ... Even at their weakest, these stories show the same elegance that marked Jhabvala's film collaborations with producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory. At the End of the Century is a treasure for readers who savor quiet works of fiction and a fitting tribute to one of the most perceptive and sensitive writers of the 20th century.
The laser-sharp intelligence of Jhabvala is etched into these 17 compelling tales ... The writer’s talent is best on display in the tension she creates between the pleasures and pains of passion and the slick composure of her prose.
A pleasure to read ... Jhabvala had a gift for tackling the messiness of human lives, the chance decision that has savage repercussions ... Some stories are still sharp...Others can feel like pressed flowers — no longer relevant, the original perfume lost, trailing a flavour of dust ... Many stories, especially those set in Delhi or small-town India, feel dated, peopled with stock characters ... certainly has its share of glittering pleasures.
Whatever the premise, Jhabvala is interested in binaries; poverty plays a foil to wealth, India to Europe, age to youth, family to the individual ... Despite the old-fashioned milieu these stories move in, they are compelling in their elegance and for Jhabvala's poised, precise eye, which stays consistent and steady through the decades.