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short story review: "The Judge's Will" by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

Unlike so much of literary fiction, this story is not set in New York City and has nothing to do with MFA programs. If for that alone, it is a breath of fresh air.

The judge of the title had just had his second heart attack. He lives in a gloomy old family estate in Delhi. Aside from any health concerns, he decides it’s now time to let his wife and son know the contents of his will if only because he knows they’re both such lightweights they won’t carry out his wishes once he is gone. Plus his mistress of 25 years has been dropping hints about her own concerns since after his first heart attack.

The judge’s wife, Binny, reacts to the news of the mistress not as a betrayal but as a piece of juicy gossip. And the first person she runs to with this juicy piece of gossip is their son, Yasi. She gave up most of her girlfriends when she left her native Bombay at her marriage.

This is an interesting, if sad, character study in a refreshing setting. There is no hero, and no one exactly covers himself in glory. An underlying sadness permeates the lives of all the characters and a shifting of allegiances makes the reader see everything in a new light.


Title: “The Judge’s Will”

Published in: The Best American Short Stories 2014

Published: The New Yorker March 25, 2013

Author: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala



©2015 Denise Longrie

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crowntower wrote on February 24, 2015, 5:22 PM

I did not really understand the whole scenario, but I think this is like the one that I have read, a very depressing one. I have a friend whose books are always depressing to me, I don't even borrow much of her dvd either because it is not always a happy ending. The book that I have read are different stories of people and they all met at Paris.

msiduri wrote on February 24, 2015, 8:57 PM

I'm sorry I wasn't clear. I didn't want to give away the ending. The judge, who is growing older and more ill, is thinking he won't live long. He doesn't think much of his wife (or his son) and has been seeing another woman for 25 years. They're all concerned about how they'll be provided for after he's gone.

CalmGemini wrote on February 27, 2015, 8:03 AM

This is not a proper story.with a hero/heroine,a beginning/an end etc.It is sort of disturbing story.Actually,real life situations are more or like this.You can't say one person is good or another is bad.I have read many of this author's works.She has the ability to read the minds of men and women .Personally,I do not consider this her best story.It is a different story.

msiduri wrote on February 27, 2015, 11:05 AM

I've never read anything else by her. You're right, though, it's more like real life than a story. And the author is very good at getting into people's minds. But it wasn't a happy story.

JohnRoberts wrote on March 1, 2015, 10:01 AM

The late Ruth Prawer Jhabvala was the Oscar winning screenwriter of the Merchant-Ivory films A Room with a View and Howard's End and won the Booker Award in the UK.

msiduri wrote on March 1, 2015, 7:08 PM

I have been told that. And I can understand that, given how she has painted the characters in this story. I am saddened to learn from your comments that her pen is silenced, however.