Plain Tales From the Hills, by Rudyard Kipling

November 7, 2010 at 13:19 (Book Reviews, Fairy Tales, Fiction, Highly Rated Books, Historical Fiction) (, , , )

10/10

For all his faults, Rudyard Kipling is intimately acquainted with the human condition. His prose is beautiful (with the possible exception of when he delves into the story of Orth’ris and company!) and his narration is polite, and presents the perfect balance between the “man of the world”, the cynical British man and the Indiophile.

His innate understanding of what makes people do the things – the stupid things, the vile things, the noble things and the beautiful things – that they do; this is offset magnificently by the feeling that he truly is a humanist of the first degree. He loves the people he writes about, and he loves them dearly, even the selfish, stubborn schemers.

Herein lies his only fault, as a man if not as a writer. His love of the men and women who inhabit his pages (even the ones he consigns to tragedy) blinds him to the remedy for wicked behaviour, and while he manages to see the pathos of a man’s self-destruction or a woman’s self-delusion, he considers the final result to be a thing of beauty and a thing of worth, and a good end in and of itself; a pyrrhic victory out of whose ashes rises the noble theme of mankind, British and Indian, triumphantly marching on.

Kipling’s portrayal of life in Colonial India is a portrayal that will outlast the centuries, and his empathy and love for his characters make this book even more fascinating than the Jungle Book (and considerably higher than Forster’s self-important and windy essays). It is sad that its epitaph will not be the beauty of humanity (which is Kipling’s calling card and raison d’etre) but the glorification of tragedy and the admiration of destruction…but even seeing its flaws, this collection of stories is peerless in its quality and heart-wrenching in its simple wonder.

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