I was lately going over her first novel, Cry, the Peacock (No, it's got nothing to do with procreative prowess of the pheasant's tears). The protagonist longs to go to Darjeeling (No, it's got nothing to do with the Gorkha agitation; she wants to get away from oppressive Delhi summer).
It's a story of woman tormented by dominant philosophies of fate, detachment and male ego.
The novel was published in 1963, sixteen years after India's independence and gives an interesting insight into the psyche of the upper-upper-middle-class society (Delhi and Lucknow are the two key places) in those early years of our "young" nation.
There's a marital mismatch. Husband, a cerebral lawyer, is almost twice the age of his sensual wife. He wants to teach her detachment as found in the Gita; she, who has memorised a fair bit of the Gita herself, finds the doctrine of detachment absurd in the context of married relationship. And, that's the conflict, which has some dire consequences!
Desai has admitted in an interview that her earlier books are "overwritten". The imagery and symbolism in this novel is cloying—there is a glut, in fact. However, in terms of seeking answer to some philosophic questions, it is an honest book.
A few quotes from the book:
"Trains passing in the night, I cannot bear to hear them. They all leave me behind alone."
"It is the evening that break one's heart. At night one only hears the pieces falling."
The one I think was quite clever is this. She has just opened a tap...
"It gurgled in hesitation, then spat, and the water came burbling out, laughing at my surprise."
Happy birthday and God bless, Ms Desai!