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Book Title: A Division of the Spoils|
The author of the book: Paul Scott
Edition: Random House Audio
Date of issue: May 11th 2010
ISBN 13: 9780307751423
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 17.87 MB
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Reader ratings: 5.3
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The End of the Raj
Finally, after tackling the four volumes with a friend at three-month intervals, I come to the end of Paul Scott's Raj Quartet. It brings the story of this particular group of Englishmen in India, which had begun with an alleged rape in 1942, up to 1947, when the British withdrew and India split into two separate countries, India and Pakistan. Whatever the strengths and weaknesses of individual sections, this final volume brings a great sense of completion, not merely of a six-year epic, but also of a colonial rule lasting the better part of two centuries. Paradoxically, though, there is also a sense of incompleteness, for few of the story lines end with any more neatness than the still troubled fate of the subcontinent itself.
This fourth volume is a long book (600 pages), and by no means even. The first 200 pages are superb, but then begins a very gradual falling off that leads the reader into some pretty tedious territory before the action picks up once more in the final 50 pages or so, which are totally brilliant. The problem, for me, arises from a conflict between Scott's roles as novelist and historian. From the very beginning, the Quartet had been characterized by multiple perspectives and an unusual mixture of narrative methods: straight description; first-person accounts; journal entries; newspaper articles; and semi-formal interviews of key characters. I read somewhere that Scott adopts some of the methods of the historian to give objectivity to his portraits of people's lives as individuals. When he succeeds in doing this, the results are superb.
But there were times in the middle of this volume when I felt that, instead of using the methods of the historian to illuminate individuals, he is using individuals as an excuse to set the record straight on some point of history. Throughout the cycle, for example, he has made reference to a fictional ex-Congress Party politician, M. A. Kasim, who is imprisoned by the British and eventually released. He plays a significant role here in relation to his elder son, Sayed, and Indian Army officer captured by the Japanese and coerced to serve in the "Indian National Army" (INA) against the British war effort. All the time I was reading this, I was feeling that either the INA must have been a hot topic when Scott was writing or he wished to make it so, for the characters all but disappear in page after page of political and moral discussion between father and son. Contrast Kasim's younger son Ahmed, who is left to be his own character, and whose story is that much more moving because he is a person first and a political symbol only a very distant second.
But then there are those 250 pages of sheer magnificence, plus another 100 or so that are pretty good. Why? Because they focus on interesting and satisfyingly complex people. Because they include entertaining and significant action. Because they are emotionally involving. And because, even when rehashing old events (as most of the Quartet does, after the first chapter or so), they add depth and interest to characters we thought we knew. Chief among these is Ronald Merrick, the former police officer whose handling of the original rape case was so suspect. Scott has always balanced a tendency to see him as the villain with surprising touches that show him in a good light. Here, though, the chiaroscuro is many times richer, with deeper blacks interspersed with flashes of brilliance and even humanity. In many ways, this is Merrick's book, even though he spends far more time in the wings than center stage.
But of course it is not Merrick's book. The leading character, if there is one, is new to the series: a British sergeant named Guy Perron. The rank is an anomaly; he is distinctly upper-middle class, having gone to the same exclusive private school as several of the other characters (but not Merrick) and thence to Cambridge, where he is pretty much guaranteed a faculty job upon demobilization. His refusal to go for a commission is a deliberate choice, but it leads to some delicious situations when the old boy network of former school friends completely trumps the military hierarchy that Lieutenant-Colonel Merrick attempts to hold over his not-so-humble sergeant.
The other major character, Sarah Layton, has been haunting Scott's pages since I think the second volume. We know her as sensible, competent, kind, and blessed with a slightly detached intelligence. Although not a beauty like her younger sister Susan, she has a surprising emotional life and is by now no virgin. All through the less political sections of the book there is the titillation of a possible romance between her and Guy. I believe the Granada TV version was more explicit about this, but the novel's slightly awkward obliquity is a strong plus here.
There is a very strange moment after what might be considered the climactic scene in Sarah and Guy's story. Scott seems to go out of his way to parallel it to quite a different episode from earlier in the cycle. At the time, it seems gratuitous and to detract from the present romance. Yet thinking about it, I realize that Scott's whole method has been to draw such parallels, by revisiting the same scene again and again, or showing similar patterns in many different characters and situations. It is as though he is tracing the eddies and ripples in a slowly moving stream, picking us up almost at random, turning us in the common human circles, then letting us go as the great river flows inexorably on.
Here are links to my reviews of all the books in the Quartet, in order:
1. The Jewel in the Crown
2. The Day of the Scorpion
3. The Towers of Silence
4. A Division of the Spoils
And to Scott's semi-comic quasi-sequel: Staying On.
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Read information about the authorLibrarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name. See this thread for more information.
Paul Scott was born in London in 1920. He served in the army from 1940 to 1946, mainly in India and Malaya. He is the author of thirteen distinguished novels including his famous The Raj Quartet. In 1977, Staying On won the Booker Prize. Paul Scott died in 1978.
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