I've just finished reading the last of the four novels comprising the Raj Quartet, by Paul Scott. There was a version on TV many years ago under the name of The Jewel in the Crown, which is the title of the first novel. The basic subject of the novel is the British in India at the end of the period of Imperial rule, and the novels cover the years from 1942 to 1947, when India became an independent nation. There's a huge cast of characters and a number of significant events, but the central event occurs in the first novel, in 1942, when a young English woman, Daphne Manners, is raped in a derelict park by a group of men. Six Indian men, including one named Hari Kumar, are arrested, but no trial eventuates.
Hari Kumar is one of the principal characters of the quartet, although he really appears only in the first novel. He is an Indian who has been brought up in England as an English boy, attending a public school like Eton, playing cricket for the school and having a full English classical education. His name is anglicised to Harry Coomer. At the end of his schooling his father loses all his money and Hari is left completely destitute. He is brought back to India by an aunt, unable to speak any Indian language and regarded with distrust by the Indian population, to whom he has become an outsider; and at the same time invisible to the white population, to whom he is just another black face. He is a brilliant character, the quintessential man lost between two worlds.
What actually happens on the night of the rape is never fully explained, but it becomes apparent that Hari and Daphne Manners had fallen in love and met in the park by arrangement, and made love. The rape occurred after they had made love, when a group of men discover them and overpower Hari and attack Daphne. Hari is targeted by the District Superintendent of Police, Ronald Merrick, who regards him as a troublemaker and conceives a hatred for him.
The plot is far too long and complex to summarise. The novels are beautifully written. The author adopts many different forms of narrative, there are many shifts of time, point of view and style of writing; each one of them is perfectly executed. The reader is occasionally puzzled about something for a while but the puzzle is always eventually resolved and the thread is never lost. The politics of the period are explored in great depth, and a constant theme of the work is the different perceptions held by the British and the Indians of the nature of British rule. There are many long and complicated passages of explanation and argument, but without exception they are worth taking the trouble to read carefully so that they are fully understood.
One of the great things about the novels is the understanding Scott displays of human beings, as well as historical events. The books are written through a number of different sets of eyes: those of Paul Scott himself, whose voice recounts the first part of the first novel; Edwina Crane, a spinster missionary who witnesses the murder of the Indian teacher who tries to protect her from a band of thugs (not Thugs); Sarah Layton, the daughter of a colonel in the Indian Army who is a prisoner of the Germans; Barbara Batchelor, another spinster missionary who has great psychological insight despite being generally regarded as a silly old woman; Guy Perron, a slightly rebellious sergeant in the Indian Army who has been to the same school as Hari Kumar. All of these are deeply and sympathetically understood.
It's a really brilliant piece of work. It was written between 1965 and 1975. Paul Scott was an Englishman who spent many years in India and wrote many novels set there, none of which come anywhere near these four in quality. According to Wikipedia, he suffered for most of his adult life from undiagnosed amoebic dysentery and dealt with it by drinking a bottle of gin a day, which may explain why many of his novels are not much good. He was eventually treated at about the time he began writing the Jewel in the Crown, and the sharpness of the quartet may perhaps be accounted for by the fact that he was no longer perpetually drunk. The quartet was generally well received, although not everyone admired it; his next novel after the quartet was called Staying On, and was about two relatively minor characters from the quartet who "stay on" in India after independence and experience the world they knew crumbling slowly about them; Scott won the Booker Prize for that novel, but probably only because he'd written the Raj Quartet.
It's a masterpiece. One of the great works of the 20th century.