Angel is dark and plain, introverted and submissive, a spontaneous composer of childish verses, wholly consumed by the wild, seductive spell of her cousin Lara - a beautiful, irresponsible creature who expresses herself in free-form dance.
What begins as a tender and intimate attachment between two young girls deepens in adulthood into something complex and perilous, as Lara's life spins in increasingly erratic circles while Angel's passionate devotion to her remains undiminished. It is a feverish and impenetrable relationship, of reckless master and willing slave, one forged to shield both Angel and Lara from the harshness of their surroundings, as well as from the far greater terrors of the self. It is a relationship that will end in terror for the young women, and for their families.
Set against the vivid, dream-like landscape of of Manhattan in the recent past, Poet and Dancer is an altogether unforgettable novel, written with the subtlety, wry humour and beauty that are the hallmarks of one of the twentieth century's most brilliant novelists and storytellers.
The 16th novel by this acclaimed novelist (whose Heat and Dust won the Booker Prize) and screenwriter ( Howards End ) showcases both her elegant Jamesian prose style and her at times frustratingly lethargic story lines. The poet of the title is serious, plain Angel; her beautiful, attention-seeking cousin Lara is the dancer. They grow close as adults, when their relationship becomes openly pathological: Lara doesn't work, sleeps around, takes drugs, and lies; Angel, her roommate, assumes the burden of caring for her, bringing ridicule and blame on herself in the process. Set in not quite contemporary New York City, the novel has an Indian element in Jhabvala's portrayal of two New Delhi natives--Mrs. Arora, Angel's mother's business partner, and her son Rohit, who becomes Angel's best friend. A subplot involves Angel's enfeebled grandmother Koenig, whose imposing, beautifully described apartment is tended by a succession of perhaps light-fingered maids. In the foreword, the third-person narrator's tantalizing query about the ratio of truth to fiction in any life story raises questions about the story proper: Is Lara insane, or just immature? Are the cousins opposite poles in any human soul--rebellious and compliant? Are Angel and Rohit male and female manifestations of a single passive being? Such intellectual contemplation, prompted by exquisite dialogue and polished sentences, may satisfy some readers, but not likely those who seek significant character development and a definitive conclusion. Major ad/promo.