review by Maryom
Although she's probably best known for her Oscar-winning screenplays of Room With A View and Howard's End for Merchant Ivory Productions, and her Booker-winning novel, Heat and Dust, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala was also a prolific writer of short stories. In At the Turn of the Century, seventeen of those stories (previously published elsewhere) are brought together to form a body of work spanning 50 years.
The earlier stories are set in Prawer Jhabvala's adopted homeland of India, telling of the lives of both Indians themselves and the English who seem drawn there looking to 'discover' themselves, through the spiritual guidance of gurus or by immersing themselves in a world which somehow seems more 'authentic' than materialistic twentieth century England; for both young hippies in the '60s or supposedly happily-married wives posted abroad with their husbands, India holds a mesmerising attraction.
When Prawer Jhabvala's work took her to the US, the setting of her stories moved too; the people at the centre of them now being wealthy New Yorkers or, in one, the film-makers of California. In this more mature phase, there's a new recurring theme - that of unconventional marriages and households.
Whatever the setting, the focus lies on the interactions of characters - within couples, families or wider groups - on the give and take of relationships, the compromises sometimes necessary to find, if not happiness, then at least contentment.
My favourites? (well, it may be wrong to choose favourites but there are always some) A Course of English Studies, about a young Indian girl's experiences at an English university, and A Choice of Heritage, in which a half English, half Indian girl gradually comes to realise that her background may not quite be what she had believed.
Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Little, Brown
Genre -adult, short stories