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This report is taken from PN Review 255, Volume 47 Number 1, September - October 2020.

Life and the Novel Gabriel Josipovici
In the Times Literary Supplement of 5 June 2020, Elizabeth Lowry writes perceptively on re-reading A Passage to India during lockdown. She quotes from the book:

Most of life is so dull that there is nothing to be said about it, and the books and talk that would describe it as interesting are obliged to exaggerate, in the hope of justifying their own existence. There are periods in the most thrilling day during which nothing happens, and though we continue to exclaim ‘I do enjoy myself’, or ‘I am horrified’ we are insincere. As far as I feel anything, it is enjoyment, horror – it’s no more than that really, and a perfectly adjusted mechanism would be silent.

This, Lowry suggests, is what the novel is ‘about’ – everyone tries to explain ‘what happened’ in the Marabar Caves, both characters within the book and subsequently, the critics. The answer, she suggests (and suggests Forster implies), is – nothing. The novel is like John Cage’s 4.33 – four minutes and thirty three seconds of silence (she says ‘like a John Cage piece’, but it is clear this is what she is thinking of, not any of his other works).

She quotes the famous remark from Aspects of the Novel: ‘Yes… oh dear yes, the novel tells a story – and I wish that it was not so, that it could be something different – melody, or perception of the truth, not this low atavistic form.’ And she suggests that it was the ...


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