IN SEARCH OF LOVE AND BEAUTY
Ruth Prawer Jabvala
Ms. Hen bought this novel at a used bookstore because she had read another book by the author, HEAT AND DUST, and she enjoyed it. Incidentally, HEAT AND DUST was the first book reviewed on her blog, so she felt connected to the author.
IN SEARCH OF LOVE AND BEAUTY suffers from the same problem that HEAT AND DUST does: it trails along at a snail’s pace. The novel is slow, and Ms. Hen could understand why some people might not like it, another reason for that is the characters all seem to dislike each other.
The novel is about a family, the matriarch, Louise, her daughter, Marietta, and Marietta’s children Mark and Natasha, and their relationship with a type of guru, Leo Kellermann. Leo has a cult, and in his youth Louise and her friend Regi assist Leo with his classes and his teaching, but they break with him, but he still pesters them for money and companionship.
Leo has affairs with Louise and Regi and a number of other women. Leo is a phony, but he is charismatic and people seem to believe he has something worthwhile to say. He prophesies that people should reach “The Point” in their lives, when they realize their potential.
Ms. Hen doesn’t like reading novels about people who are rotten to each other, but she couldn’t stop reading this, because this novel was so visceral that she felt she was there with the characters in New York in places like a café called the Old Vienna drinking liqueur drinks with whipped cream and looking at the gilded chandeliers and blue velvet chairs. There were a few places in the novel in which cake and pastries are mentioned, and for some reason, they stood out for Ms. Hen, especially a scene at Louise’s birthday party where the grandchildren are shoving pastry after pastry into their mouths.
Marietta travels to India to be with her lover, Ravi, and she spends time getting to know the country. She stays at a house with a famous singer and they go out to eat at a restaurant, “Everyone was enjoying their meal, the ladies as much as the men, tearing the legs of skinny ovenbaked chickens and bringing their heads forward to bite into them.” Right after this Marietta gets bit by a bird and is scared that she might be infected. Ms. Hen appreciated that the people were eating chicken in India, and it is a pivotal point because it shows what kind of person Marietta is: a person trying to be worldly, but neurotic about unpleasant things.
Ms. Hen thought that this novel was good, but it might not be for everyone. People who aren't bothered by reading about characters who don’t like each other, who are selfish, and who are strange, and lie to other people about their mental health would enjoy IN SEARCH OF LOVE AND BEAUTY. Ms. Hen didn’t mind because she knows this is the way people can be. If she met these characters in real life, she wouldn’t like them, but reading about them didn’t bother her. She doesn’t mind neurotics if they’re not right in her face. It’s good to live in other people’s problems for a short time.