This is less a sequel to and more a coda to The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott. Those novels, which average 450 pages, and both expansive in detail, rich in structural choices, and narrowly focused, deal with the waning days of the British Raj in India in the years surrounding the Second World War. They were published from the late 1960s through the early 1970s. They are impressive and brilliant.
This novel is a slim sequel that was published in 1978, a year before the author’s early death, and seem to represent a closing off of the narrative. The novel also won the Booker Prize, and it’s easy to assume that prize is for all five books, and not just this one. It’s not as good as any single volume of the quartet, but is still good.
It’s just different, that’s all. Tusker and Lucy Smalley were two ancillary characters in the Raj Quartet, and at the end of those novels, as the Laytons moved back to England, the Smalleys moved into their apartments. Now it’s 25 years later and life has moved on for everyone. No longer do we have the British stand-ins uncomfortably positioned next to the “natives” as many of them would have it, but as outsiders in a country ruled by Indians. And for the most part, it turns out it’s fine. The issue of course is that they are getting older and the things that seemed so so so important in their youth, once given over, faded like everything else, and their final comforts are what matter most. It’s a sigh of resignation.