Book reviews

I added A Passage to India by E.M. Forster to my Classics Club list even though I didn’t really enjoy either Howard’s End and Where Angels Fear to Tread. The writing in both books is beautiful and the issues raised are thought-provoking but Forster’s characters irritate me enormously.

A Passage to India follows four main characters, three who are English and one who is Indian, all of whom were living in or visiting India during the 1920s. Miss Adela Quested was visiting India with Mrs Moore to decide if she wanted to marry Mrs Moore’s son Ronny when they visited local caves with Dr Aziz, a local Indian man. While they were exploring the caves Adela had a panic attack and accused Dr Aziz of assaulting her.

In court, Adela realised she had imagined the attack and so the case against Dr Aziz was dismissed, although of course by then his personal reputation had been savaged. Adela’s accusation against Dr Aziz also damaged the relationship between the Indian and British people which had become perilously close to becoming violent. After the court case was over Adela felt unable to marry Ronny, so Mr Fielding took her in until she was able to return to England. Fielding’s kind deed to Adela ruined his friendship with Dr Aziz.

The outing to the caves came about because as newcomers to India, Mrs Moore and Adela wanted to know what they called the ‘real’ India and Indian people. The other women living in British India (or British Raj) preferred to create a replica of their lives in England and viewed Indian people with an extraordinary amount of racism considering that the English were the outsiders in India.

It seemed to me that the Indian people weren’t friends with each other either as they were divided by their religions and castes. It seemed even more impossible that the Indian and British people, represented by Fielding and Dr Aziz could be friends, as they had an even greater divide between them.

Perhaps not surprisingly I felt irritable the entire time I was reading A Passage to India, but this time, as well as feeling annoyed by characters who I didn’t like or respect, the whole idea of the British Empire being in India when they had no business there at all irritated me enormously. While I understand that if the British hadn’t been in India another empire-building, thieving country would have been there plundering India instead, I don’t think that excuses the British.

I found A Passage to India hard-going. None of the characters in this book come out of the story covered in any kind of glory. As well as feeling irritated for all of the reasons I’ve already mentioned, I also struggled with boredom and kept falling asleep while reading this story.

A Passage to India was book nineteen in my Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics before my challenge end date of August 26, 2023.

Comments on: "A Passage to India by E.M. Forster" (17)

  1. Hahaha, I’m kinda frightened to leave a comment while you’re feeling so anti-British! 😉 I read this years ago and seem to remember loving it, but it’s actually on my provisional next Classics Club list for a re-read. I do remember feeling very much on the side of the Indians in the story, though… 😀

  2. Interesting review! I’ve this book maybe 3 times (it was on a course for my degree) and I’m not especially keen on it. There were some aspects of it I appreciated but the characters are annoying as you say. Do you think you will read any more Forster?

  3. Oh, no! I didn’t mean to sound anti-British but I was so annoyed with the British characters and what they were doing in India, as well as their behaviour while there. Much like Australia though, I do accept that if it hadn’t been the British another world power of the time would have done the same thing.

  4. Groan! Three times!
    I’ve got A Room With a View on my Classics Club list so will probably read that, then finish forever with Forster. His writing is beautiful but that doesn’t make up for this irritating characters.

  5. Yes, I haven’t got the book any more because I won’t want to read it again! I’ve read Room with a View, and possibly one or two others, but he’s really not for me.

  6. No, his writing is not for me either.

  7. Ha ha! I’m with FF – wary of saying anything to fuel those anti-brit flames! 😆 Forster keeps eluding me. I want to read at least one book of his but never quite manage it. One day! And meanwhile, well done for getting to the end of this one when it was so clearly pushing your buttons! I totally sympathise when the characters are all unlikeable to boot!

  8. I hope you do read him because his writing is beautiful. You would probably take different things from the story than me, but the characters do put me off.
    The worst part is, I’ve still got A Room With A View on my Classics Club list!

  9. You are allowed to change your CC list, though I accept that for many people that diminishes the challenge. My current list is scarcely recognisable from its original guise!

  10. This is on my classics club list too, and I fear I’m going to agree with you. I do actually love Forster but I can see this being difficult. . .

  11. I know, but I can’t bring myself to change it. I’ve started keeping notes for a second challenge in about three years time and Forster will not be on that list!

  12. If you live Forster then I expect your opinion will be completely different to mine! Perhaps A Room With A View will change my mind, but it isn’t likely!

  13. I admire your determination, Rose! Good luck!

  14. I’ve loved all the film adaptations of E.M. Forster’s novels, but I haven’t read any of the books. Howard’s End and A Passage to India were on top of the list, so I am sorry to hear you didn’t get on with any of them.

    I understand about feeling irritable, but on the other hand I just finished George Orwell’s Burmese Days and despite all of the characters being highly unsympathetic (especially the British) I enjoyed the story overall.

  15. I’ll have to be careful not to make a habit of being irritable! In that spirit, I’m hoping to love the films when I get to them and find a new appreciation of E.M. Forster 🙂
    After reading Down and Out in Paris and London I’m keen to read Burmese Days too.

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