Those for whom India proves too strong

Patricia Craig

  • Three Continents by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
    Murray, 384 pp, £11.95, October 1987, ISBN 0 7195 4433 5

A lot of ground is covered by Three Continents. We begin in America with a pair of zealous twins, Harriet and Michael Wishwell (pronounced Witchell), 19 years old, both owning and expecting a lot of inherited assets, money and property, and both avid to serve some striking cause. ‘Michael, my twin brother, and I always wanted something other – better – than we had,’ declares Harriet, the narrator, at the start of this long novel. An Indian movement to promote world unity appears to fit the bill. At the centre of this movement are the Rawul, amiable prince of an insignificant Indian kingdom, his opulent consort the Rani, and dishy Crishi, the couple’s – so it is believed – adopted son. Michael, who has met these exciting people on his travels abroad, invites them and their followers to make themselves at home at his flighty mother’s house Propinquity, in upstate New York, which they do with such thoroughness that they end by taking over the house and all in it. Harriet, who, in spite of her brother’s enthusiasm, at first holds aloof from the Rawul’s Transcendental Internationalism and from the movement’s founders, is eventually bowled over by wily Crishi; he takes off his pyjama trousers (Indian) on a beach at midnight, and things proceed to a natural conclusion. This is heiress Harriet’s first taste of ecstatic sex, and it goes to her head. She proceeds to marry him.

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