[Reading Room] The Judge’s Will by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

Screen Shot 2013-06-04 at 10.34.42 AMRead this story in The New Yorker

Set in Bombay, this is a skillful story that features four distinct characters: an elderly judge, his wife, his son and his long-time “kept woman”. The author is economical and shares a lot of detail — characters, culture, physical setting — in relatively few words (even though this is not a short-short story). Not a word is wasted and it is worth reading if only to see how that’s done.

I have a couple of problems with this story, and they are matters of personal taste.

Firstly, I don’t like any of the characters. I know there’s a place for this in literature, but I really prefer a story where I like at least one of the characters at least a little bit. I can sympathize to some extent with almost all of the characters in this novel (a testament to the writer’s skill), but I don’t like any of them, which leaves me with a feeling of not having enjoyed the story.

Also, I know there is a kind of resolution in here, if I go looking for it, but I prefer a good, strong ending. This story, like real life, just pauses for a moment and then carries on, anticlimactically. It’s a literary style that is much admired, just not by me.

What do you think? Do you like this kind of story? Do you like storybook endings or are you OK with thinks just petering out?