March 25, 2013

"The Judge's Will"

By Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
~6000 words

A woman discovers that her husband has made a provision in his will for a long-time mistress.

Unlike the typical wife, Binny accepts her husband's infidelity "as though she had just heard some spicy piece of gossip," sharing the news with her son Yasi, with whom she has an unusually close relationship. When she learns that her husband has ordered Yasi to look after the mistress, she threatens to take him away with her, from the family home in Delhi to her childhood home in Bombay. But Yasi's delicate mood and an illness on the part of the mistress put those plans on hold.

Well-crafted characters form the heart of this story. Particularly noteworthy is the quasi-Oedipal relationship between Binny and Yasi, which prompts Binny to end her one remaining female friendship when the woman comments: "It's all Freud, of course." The coldness between Binny and the judge is nicely complemented by a tender scene at the end. And then there's the mistress, Phul—fool?—delicate and exposed, pushed by her lover into an impossible dependency on his mercurial son and wife.

While the plot of "The Judge's Will" is rather aimless and the language unremarkable, the colorful characters make it worth a read—even as the muddled perspective makes it difficult to identify fully with any of them.


Reader poll: I found "The Judge's Wife" to be ___.

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