Published in 1980, Clear Light of Day is generally regarded as Anita Desai’s finest work to date by critics. The author has identified it as her most autobiographical work as a result of being set in the neighborhood where she came of age. The novel was first of three Desai books so far which was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize. Plot matches theme in the parallel drawn between the partition of Indian and Pakistan and the move toward reunion of two sisters in New Delhi.
The titular illumination refers to the lighting of the way reconciliation once all the misunderstandings and long-held emotional barriers have been cleared out of the way. This clarity is achieved by Desai through the implementation of a stream-of-consciousness technique that affords multiple viewpoints capable of shining the light of objective truth on individual events which recur through different subjective memories.
The impact of the past upon the present is thematic presented in the structure of the four-part narrative. The present is introduced in first part as taking place in the late 70’s while part II transports the reader back to the year of Indian independence, 1947. The third second of the book goes back even further in time in order to show how the way that children perceive the world around them can have life-long consequences. Part IV traces the long decades of growth often required before insight is attained by putting readers back into the novel’s present.
Desai has pointed to T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets as inspiration for the chronology of Clear Light of Day. The chronological impact of beginning at the end of the story and then circling back to the beginning was designed to situate the concept of time as a fourth dimension so essential to telling and understanding the story that it transcends mere theme to take on the elements of an actual character. As a character, time is interacting with the other characters in way that forces past into the present to produce effects and consequences which will recur again in the future.