Janice Pariat’s novel, Everything the Light Touches, has been longlisted for the 2023 JCB Prize for Literature. Scroll spoke to Pariat about the origins, themes, and writing of her novel.
In the novel, we meet many travellers: Shai, a young Indian woman who journeys to India’s northeast and rediscovers, through her encounters with indigenous communities, ways of living that realign and renew her. Evelyn, an Edwardian student at Cambridge who, inspired by Goethe’s botanical writings, embarks on a journey seeking out the sacred forests of the Lower Himalayas. Linnaeus, botanist and taxonomist, who famously declared “God creates; Linnaeus organises” and led an expedition to Lapland in 1732. And Goethe himself, who travelled through Italy in the 1780s, formulated his ideas for a revelatory text that called for a re-examination of our propensity to reduce plants – and the world – into immutable parts.
Drawing richly from scientific ideas, the novel plunges into a whirl of ever-expanding themes, and the contrasts between modern India and its colonial past, urban life and the countryside, capitalism and centuries-old traditions of generosity and gratitude. At the heart of the book lies a tussle between different ways of seeing – those that fix and categorise, and those that free and unify.