Chatto & Windus £12.99

The Artist of Disappearance, By Anita Desai

Three windows of opportunity are going, going...gone

The three novellas in Anita Desai's new collection, The Artist of Disappearance, are filled with disappointments in human nature, inciting a melancholy that is hard to shake.

The stories are all linked by a passion for arts, but they are actually more about ourselves – the selves that dare to hope, that desperately want to be different, but which then sink back and disappear into ordinariness.

The first and shortest story, "The Museum of Final Journeys", is narrated by a minor civil servant who is posted to an isolated rural district of India. The failed young writer survives this sentence in the wilderness, despite the lack of tennis or proper English tea, by becoming increasingly irritated by the people whose lives he governs. His beloved books run dry, and the loneliness and boredom become so pervasive that he slips into an apathetic coma, until an elderly visitor awakens him with alluring stories about a mysterious museum on a once-grand neighbouring estate. The bored civil servant is enticed by the promise of a "miraculous Xanadu", and the ancient curator takes him on a breathless tour of a museum which is filled with treasures that were sent home by the last son of the estate: priceless figurines, scrolls, ceramics and fans from the Orient.

At last, the civil servant is once again surrounded by beautiful things. But then the real reason for the visit: will he intervene to save the collection from the son's final bequest, an elephant, who is desolately eating her way through the family's remaining wealth?

The second novella is about a bitter and depressed middle-aged English teacher, Prema, who for a while begins to believe in the literary dreams of her youth. A chance meeting with her high-school idol, now a feminist publisher, leads to Prema pursuing a new career as a translator of "undiscovered" novels written in her beloved mother tongue, Oriya, the language of the state of Orissa. This opens up, briefly, a window of possibilities beyond the mundane. But her desperation to have a voice actually results in the window slamming shut. Back to her life as a tired woman with nothing to look forward to, she wonders why she had dared even to hope.

The third protagonist is a recluse, Ravi, who lives in a house high in the foothills of the Himalayas. The adopted son of neglectful parents, who left him every summer while they "seasoned" in Europe, Ravi found comfort in the ants, crickets and trees, so that nature has become the only nourishment that he craves.

After his parents die, the family house is burnt down by his former governess, at last leaving him alone to create "art" from nature's precious materials. His peace is interrupted by superficial documentary makers who are looking for illegal logging and environmental degradation, but accidentally stumble upon his creation. For a moment the TV crew seem inspired by his work.

Each tale evokes flashes of a vanishing reality, taking us back to a post-colonial world as it literally fades and crumbles. Desai's writing is at times as sensuous and charming as some of her best: birds sing with "piercing sweetness"; mushrooms resemble refugees with their "ghostly pallor and caps, hats and bonnets". But, the stories themselves fail to persuade and the disappointments are too explicit, the endings too abrupt. Perhaps aptly, these interlinked stories of human disappointment are beautifully written but ultimately disappointing.

Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood

'Whether he left is almost immaterial'TV
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before