THREE CONTINENTS by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Kirkus Star


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Again, as in In Search of Love and Beauty (1983), Jhabvala plumbs the (here dangerous) fatuity of materially well-cushioned, self-drunk beings, tag ends of once-vital dynasties of power or thought. The lightly sardonic tone hardens early on into a chilling urgency, as a brace of blankly nihilistic young twins--rooted to nothing but a hunger for passionate invasion (a need quickly met)--achieve a richly ornamental annihilation through New York (both town and country), London and India. The pair become meshed in a foggily idealistic ""world movement"" led by a channing, but hardly spiritual, Indian, and get plowed for a financial killing (and just plain killing?) by a truly evil man. Narrator Harriet Wishwell (pronounced ""Withcell') and her twin brother Michael, wealthy heirs of a once-prominent American family, ""always wanted something other--better--than [they] had."" Nothing less than absolute truth and purity--hardly supplied by dilettante parents--is the goal, and in this direction Michael brings an extraordinary trio to mother Lindsay's massive New York estate: ""The Rawul,"" plump remnant of an ancient kingdom; his ""consort"" Rani (really RenÉe); and their ""adopted son,"" the sexually stirring Cristi. A huge group of ""pale, devoted"" followers take over the estate to serve The Rawul and his movement, ""International Transcendentalism."" At first, Harriet swings on the side of sanity and family ties, while Michael--like Harriet, he will inherit a fortune in two years--has promised all his worldly goods to the Movement. In those two years, there will be abortive rebellions and assertions of familial love--but too late, for a murderer-sadist-thief will strike again and again at core vulnerabilities (sexual and spiritual) of the twins until the day is his in the fungal decay of the Rawul's kingdom. Crowded with somewhat hortatory portraits of traditional eminences (an old American diplomat; an imperious real Rani), a handful of good and gentle people, and a demimonde of crooks and the doomed, this is a mesmerizing, icy tale of the progress of valueless youth into self self-destruction, and a twilit morality where one ""can get used to"" almost anything.

Pub Date: Aug. 18th, 1987
Publisher: Morrow