Nandakishore Varma's Reviews > The Jewel in the Crown

The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott
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Apr 17, 15

bookshelves: general-fiction

It would not be an exaggeration to say that this is the most awesome novel which I have read about British India. The story is gripping: the language poetic ("the indigo dreams of flowers fallen asleep", to recall a phrase which lingers in the memory): and the characterisation near flawless. Even after more than twenty years (I think it's nearer twenty-five), I can recall the some scenes as if I had read the novel yesterday.

Just look at how Scott starts the novel off:

Imagine, then, a flat landscape, dark for the moment, but even so conveying to a girl running in the still deeper shadow cast by the wall of the Bibighar Gardens an idea of immensity, of distance, such as years before Miss Crane had been conscious of, standing where a lane ended and cultivation began...

Like To Kill a Mockingbird and One Hundred Years of Solitude, the first paragraph hooks you with the whole story encapsulated in it. Then when the novelist goes on to say "this is the story of a rape...", you are lost for good.

It is 1942, and Gandhi has delivered the ultimatum to the British - "Quit India!" - in his quietly arrogant way. Everywhere, the winds of change are felt, as the worm is finally turning. In this chaotic situation, a British woman is raped by Indians-and all hell breaks loose. “The Bibighar Incident”, as it comes to be known, grows into a metaphor: the beginning of the end of the British Raj.

Paul Scott’s extraordinary achievement is to encapsulate this huge canvas into the private lives of a few misfits. Daphne Manners, large boned and clumsy, with none of the charms of the English girl: Hari Kumar (or Harry Coomer, as he likes to call himself), Indian on the outside and English on the inside: and Merrick, the policeman, acutely conscious of his low social standing in British society. This triangle is unlike any other seen in literature, as love and hate in equal measure bind these people together, pulling them into the inevitable vortex at the Bibighar gardens.

The novel unfolds through the perspectives of different characters, often not central to the story. It gives a jagged, kaleidoscopic feel to the narrative which is perfectly in keeping with India. And as the mystery of what happened at Bibighar is revealed, we seem to hear the bells start to ring the death knell of the British Empire.

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Comments (showing 1-30 of 30) (30 new)

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Nandakishore Varma Thanks for the likes!


message 2: by Riku (last edited Feb 13, 2012 11:27PM) (new) - added it

Riku Sayuj Will take the advice of the last line then.


Nandakishore Varma Thanks, Riku.


message 4: by Sharon (new)

Sharon I'll have a look out for this one and see if it's in our compound library.


Nandakishore Varma I think you'll like it, Sharon, especially since you're from England. But it's not easy to get hold of Paul Scott nowadays-I bought all the four when the TV series was being aired in India, and there was a surge of interest.


Laura Leaney Now I don't need to write a review!


Nandakishore Varma Oh, but you must. I have been looking forward to it.


Laura Leaney I'll do my best.


message 9: by Patrick (new) - added it

Patrick Emmett I love to read reviews from the both of you! Thanks for the wonderful contributions.


message 10: by Stephanie (last edited Feb 11, 2013 02:40PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Stephanie Sun Thank you for (along with David G. and Lobstergirl) introducing me to this wonderful book.


message 11: by Hana (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hana Thank you for this review! I'm on the first page and the landscape that '...between the rainfall and the short twilight, extracted colour from the spectrum of the setting sun...' and the '...violet smudge of hill county' grabbed me and then I got to 'This is a story of a rape' and almost decided to stop right there, but your review convinced me to carry on.


message 12: by Hana (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hana I just finished and it is an extraordinary book. Your review was such a perfect analysis that it helped me through some of the more difficult sections--and yet you did it in a spoiler-free way. No easy task. I especially loved your description of the triangle of misfits.


Nandakishore Varma Hana wrote: "I just finished and it is an extraordinary book. Your review was such a perfect analysis that it helped me through some of the more difficult sections--and yet you did it in a spoiler-free way. No ..."

Thanks. This is high praise indeed.


message 14: by Hana (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hana Well deserved! :)


message 15: by Seemita (new) - added it

Seemita Oh that opening line has me!

Paul Scott has been on my horizon for a long time and your coherently constructed review, with the right amount of curious bent, rightly nudges me towards his works.
I would love to get a peek into this saga of British India reign during a mercurial period. Thanks for the reco, NK!


Nandakishore Varma Seemita wrote: "Oh that opening line has me!

Paul Scott has been on my horizon for a long time and your coherently constructed review, with the right amount of curious bent, rightly nudges me towards his works. ..."


Thanks. I was pointed towards this book by the excellent 14-part serial made by the BBC based on the quartet. Thankfully, I only saw the opening two episodes, so could enjoy the books without spoilers. I saw the serial in full later.

IMO, Paul Scott is the only British author to write without any hint of race superiority. I have heard that he was gay, and therefore felt himself isolated from his countrymen. A bit of himself can be identified in all three of the main characters.


message 17: by Seemita (new) - added it

Seemita Nandakishore wrote: "Seemita wrote: "Oh that opening line has me!

Paul Scott has been on my horizon for a long time and your coherently constructed review, with the right amount of curious bent, rightly nudges me tow..."


Interesting. He reminds me of E M Forster, whose writing, if I faintly recall from my rather early reading days, was devoid of biases. How do you hold Forster vis-à-vis Scott?


Nandakishore Varma Seemita wrote: "Nandakishore wrote: "Seemita wrote: "Oh that opening line has me!

Paul Scott has been on my horizon for a long time and your coherently constructed review, with the right amount of curious bent, ..."


Scott is a cut above. Forster is sympathetic to Indians. Scott shows empathy.


message 19: by Kavita (new)

Kavita This looks delicious! I have to read it. Checked on Flipkart, and it's available. Thanks for posting this brilliant review.


Nandakishore Varma Kavita wrote: "This looks delicious! I have to read it. Checked on Flipkart, and it's available. Thanks for posting this brilliant review."

Thank you. I am sure you will enjoy it.


message 21: by Seemita (new) - added it

Seemita Nandakishore wrote: "Seemita wrote: "Nandakishore wrote: "Seemita wrote: "Oh that opening line has me!

Paul Scott has been on my horizon for a long time and your coherently constructed review, with the right amount o..."


I will fiddle with that thought while perusing Scott's work. Thanks.


message 22: by Jibran (new) - added it

Jibran Looks like I will have to import it from the UK. I will, the whole quartet. I have been aware of this work for half a decade though couldn't find the opportunity to read it. Great review, NK.


Nandakishore Varma Jibran wrote: "Looks like I will have to import it from the UK. I will, the whole quartet. I have been aware of this work for half a decade though couldn't find the opportunity to read it. Great review, NK."

Thank you. I think here you will find a truly empathetic English author.


message 24: by Jibran (new) - added it

Jibran Actually no, I just found first two books on a local online store! Great!

NK, have you read all four books?


Nandakishore Varma Jibran wrote: "Actually no, I just found first two books on a local online store! Great!

NK, have you read all four books?"


All four, plus the sequel:Staying On, which incidentally won the Booker. I think, the third novel, The Towers of Silence, also won a Booker.

I found the fourth novel to be not up to the standard of the other three - more of a tying up of loose ends. I did not enjoy the sequel that much also.

Of the quartet, I would rate the novels, quality-wise, thus:

1. The Jewel in the Crown (the best)
2. The Towers of Silence (a close second)
3. The Day of the Scorpion (a noticeable decrease in quality, but very powerful metaphorically)
4. A Division of the Spoils (a necessary close-out of the series, but nowhere near the quality of the others)


message 26: by Jibran (new) - added it

Jibran Thanks NK. That helps. Seeing there are four, no five, books to read, I better start on them soon. I checked that the first installment is about 1000 pages long :-/


message 27: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Lieberman I came to this quartet through the 1980s miniseries, which was excellent, but Scott's novels are much more complex, mind puzzles in addition to being enjoyable as literature. I'd compare him to Faulkner.

Glad to know that you rate it so highly. (We recently watched the episodes again and they still hold up.)


Lynda A truly great novel. Go on now amd read the rest.


message 29: by Nandakishore (last edited Apr 18, 2015 10:23AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nandakishore Varma Lisa wrote: "I came to this quartet through the 1980s miniseries, which was excellent, but Scott's novels are much more complex, mind puzzles in addition to being enjoyable as literature. I'd compare him to Fau..."

Yes, the Faulkner comparison is apt, though Scott is more readable. I rate him above Forster.

The first three books, each are titled by a metaphor. "The Jewel in the Crown", everybody knows.

"The Day of the Scorpion": there is a belief in India, that the only way to kill a scorpion is to pour kerosene around it and set it alight (you can't approach anywhere near it). When the heat becomes unbearable, the scorpion will sting itself to death. Scott uses this as a metaphor for the British Empire.

"The Towers of Silence": They are the big wooden structures where Zoroastrians hang up their dead, to be eaten by vultures (they still exist in Mumbai). An apt metaphor for a dead empire.


Nandakishore Varma Lynda wrote: "A truly great novel. Go on now amd read the rest."

I have read all the four, and the sequel. :)


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