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The Secret Life Of A Novelist

Shane Joseph

By Damon Galgut
Atlantic Books, 2014, pp. 388, $17.00


Astory about the secret life of a novelist and short-story writer, and a famous one at that, never fails to interest, and this novel does not disappoint. Mainly covering the twelve-year period between 1912 and 1924 when the conception and writing of the classic novel, A Passage to India, took place, Damon Galgut takes us through the repressed life of E.M. Forster, a creature of Empire who was also the victim of its restrictive class, racial and morality norms. Forster’s homosexuality was known among his inner circle but never to his wider audience of readers until his posthumous novel Maurice was released. Therefore, all his sexual activity (or most often, inactivity) had to be kept under wraps. During this period, there were three men in his life: Hugh Owen Meredith (Hom) in England, Masood in India, and Mohammed in Egypt. Hom is a fellow Kings’ man from Cambridge who engages in minor sexual activity with Forster (kissing, cuddling and rolling on the carpet) before moving onto the respectability of marriage, family and social standing, leaving his ‘dark chapter’ behind. Masood is a brash intellectual whom Forster tutored in England and meets again in India, a lover who becomes a lawyer and who also pursues marriage to further his career. Mohammed is a poor tram conductor in Alexandria and, by far, the only one to truly reciprocate Forster’s feelings (though not always his actions), but he too must inevitably succumb to marriage, leaving Forster forlorn. Forster, in 1912, was coming off the success of his acclaimed fourth novel Howard’s End, a book that laid bare the ills of the sterile British class system and signalled the setting of the sun on the Empire, despite Winston Churchill’s claim to the contrary. Howard’s End had been praised by critics but disliked by his domineering mother, Lily, for exposing the vanity of the British middle class; the novel gave Forster the opportunity to quit his day job and take up the life of a full-time writer and make the journey to India, a pilgrimage that every honest British Empire-man was expected to make during his lifetime. He reconnects with Masood in India, but sees the man slipping away from him. Forster is tortured by the heat, and the lust that it ignites in him, a lust that has no outlet except in his imagination. His excursion to the Barabar Caves gives ...

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