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A Matter of Time by Shashi Deshpande: A Book Review

Updated on July 2, 2012

A Matter of Time by Shashi Deshpande: Analytical Book Review.

Book: A Matter of Time.
Author: Shashi Deshpande
Genre: Fiction.
Publisher : Penguin Books.1996.
Price: Rs.250

Shashi Deshpande’s novel A Matter of Time is a continuation of her exploration into the many facets of feminine experience in writing. With this novel she takes the themes of Silence, gender differences, passive suffering, familial relationships into much deeper realms and lays bare a story which excites Aristotlean pity and fear- pity for those whom we see suffer and fear for our own selves as we realize how amidst our mundane existence we are so near chaos.

Set in present day Karnataka, rich with south Indian culture, landscape, folk tales and history, It is a story encompassing three generations of women coming to terms with their life in an all female world. The relation women characters share with their men is hovered with either silence, absence or indifference. The family saga opens up when one evening Sumi’s world is torpedoed as her husband Gopal walks out on her and their three daughters, Aru, Charu and Seema without any explanation. Sumi too doesn’t ask for one. Her indifference unsettles her three daughters as much as it disturbs a reader. The pain of the disintegration of the family troubles Aru who considers herself responsible for her father’s action and sets out to undo it.

Sumi along with her daughters return to their ancestral house where her mother Kalyani had been living in an oppressive and strange silence, striving to make sense of her relation with her husband who hasn’t spoken to her for years.

It is in this stifling atmosphere the characters evolve and come to a newer understanding of their lives. Kalyani gives vent to her long suppressed feelings as her relation with her daughter and grand daughters develop, opening up the gates of her memories through which the family legacy pours out. Sumi finds solace in taking up her dream career, Aru starts making sense of her mother’s indifference and her father’s desertion.

Fury, role of destiny, gender differences are some of many themes around which Despande weaves her tale. If for Gopal it is something as bizarre as existential fury that drives him away from his family, for Sripati it is the inner fury of loss. Throughout the novel- span of a year- Gopal himself is at loss of any convincing explanation for his action. His attempt at understanding the fury that torments him is brilliantly rendered in the novel with the help of varied allusions from Upanishads to Camus to Joan of Arc. At one point in the novel Gopal reaches very near to the definition of existential fury. Deshpande writes ” I thought of Purandarasa’s line. ‘listen the hour strikes’ and I was terrified, I knew I was running out of time. “….” I stopped believing in the life i was leading, suddenly it seemed unreal to me and I knew I could not go on.”

Deshpande’s simple yet powerful prose reads like a grandmother’s tale, that pierces deep into heart and settles. If at one point the use of omniscient narration teases the reader as the speaker claims to foresee events but is not ready to share until time and plot unfolds it, at other end there is a sudden revelation of plot for poignant appeal. The last meeting of Gopal and Sumi is bluntly put “It is on this note of laughter they part” Deshpande writes and as one starts imagining the possibility of their union one reads “They will not meet again.”

The larger appeal of the novel, in comparison to other works of Deshpande, is its exploration of man and woman relationship in context of existentialism. The relation of father and daughter, that of Premi and Sripati is yet another relation which takes the reader deeper into the complex web of human relations.The unconscious inheritance which passes from one generation to another is wonderfully expressed in Sumi’s words. She ponders “Kalyani’s past, which she has contained within herself. careful never to let it spill out, has nevertheless entered into us, into Premi and me, it has stained our bones, Premi’s more obviously perhaps, but mine as well. And will this, what is happening to me now, become part of my daughter’s too? Will I burden them with my past and my mother’s as well?”

I read Shashi Deshpande’s A Matter of Time right after completing Salman Rushdie’s Fury. It was incidental but i discovered that inspite of their many dissimilarities, both the novels are spun around a similar theme: Existential Fury. Deshpande brings Rushdie’s novel out from the howling New york city to a calm and meditating Karnataka and fills in the gaps a reader might have been left craving for, answers the questions that were left unanswered, reveals the turmoil that might have inflicted Rushdie’s characters, rewrites Fury from a feminine experience. While Deshpande’s novel deals with the complex web of family relations and works out an impact existential crisis has on an individual and their families, once it strikes, Rushdie’s book takes on a different stage to explore the world from the consciousness of a fury-tormented protagonist, who in an attempt to rescue himself from his internal turmoil abandons his family and sets to New York, only to find the world engulfed in a greater fury: racial, political, cultural, corporal. Rushdie’s narrative is written from his male protagonist Malik Solanka’s point of view and fails to give any decisive light into Elanor’s coping up with her husband’s action. It is here we have Deshpande’s novel for the Indian readers giving insight into a woman’s life.

Deshpande is at her best using allusions to portray the development and inner turmoil of her characters. It is the sudden winding up of plot with the use of dues ex machina that may disappoint readers. There are many issues in the novel left unresolved and the denouement comes as an unexpected surprise. Her feminine concern makes the novel an all-female utopia where men are introduced either as product of memory, understood and reproduced from the point of view of women in the novel, or if present are shut out from the plot and from the reader’s understanding of them. Deshpande is aware of her inclination as she makes Gopal put his feeling of seclusion, ” ‘It’s not so easy to be the only male in a family of females. You feel so-so-’ … ‘you feel so shut out’ “. A male reader might come across a similar feeling.

Inspite of being rooted in particular region, milieu, culture and gender, Despande’s novel appeals because of its universal theme. A Matter of Time is the first of Deshpande’s many novels to be published in New york and an after word by Indian feminist editor and publisher Ritu Menon helps non native readers appreciate the novel. A Matter of Time is a novel not for entertainment. It is to read and ponder, to delve into the crevices of human existence and relationships. It is a book to savor and re-read, to discover the meaning of words with every reading.

Book Review Party Wednesday.
Book Review Party Wednesday.


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    • limpet profile image

      Ian Stuart Robertson 

      5 years ago from London England

      Not for the first time a novel has been set in a 'state of mind' as we can trace the ideal of a perfect society right back to the lost continent of Atlantis. A matter of time, gives a refreshing insite into the mysterious cultural rich and highly spiritual civilization of Hindustan. Recently i came across a similar genre titled Lady Land writtern under the psuedonym of Sultana in which the actual premise here is gender role reversal and where surplus males are consigned to 'purdah' behind screens. My interest in both novels came about because of a long standing kwoledge of a settlement at the headwaters of the Indus river called Hunza where nobody has too little, nobody has too much!

    • profile image


      8 years ago


      Extremely impressive review

      You seem to be blessed in the art of bringing words to life

      Look forward to reading more of your work

    • profile image

      kirti vithani 

      8 years ago

      nice. thank you for the review. i am going to teach the novel to my students very soon..

    • profile image

      Crystal Fulcher 

      10 years ago

      Very thorough review - it sounds like a very thoughtful and well-written book. I'm going to have to look for this one.

    • profile image

      cym lowell 

      10 years ago

      You are an excellent writer and reviewer. I enjoy reading your reviews every week and your perspective is enlightening and educational. Thanks for including this in the blog book review link-up. I hope others read and appreciate as much as I did.


    • tinarathore84 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from India

      hey..thanks for the comment. ya, you must read the book..i'm sure you'll love it.

    • wannabwestern profile image

      Carolyn Augustine 

      10 years ago from Iowa

      Thank you for sharing this insightful review. Now I have to read this book!


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