The admirable quality in all her works is, Desai does not attribute any ideology to her characters. She is a minute observer, who perceives everything delicately and rather poetically. In particular, she voices the mute miseries and helplessness of women tormented by existentialist problems. She examines their psyche when they are confronted with the absurdity of life. This draws her attention to the darker side of life. She projects a tragic vision in her novels by placing her female protagonists in hostile situations. She simply wants to explore their psychological conflicts and struggles. There is never a word uttered about the oppression that these women have suffered through their lives. The injustices and oppressions are for the reader to derive.
This book is a simple portrayal of three women who have a found a way to live in contented seclusion and the existential angst experienced by the female protagonist Nanda Kaul, an old lady living in isolation. The radical refusal of Nanda Kaul’s previous but exhausted role as a mother and wife, her solitary retreat into an inhospitable Kasauli landscape. It also projects the inner turmoil of a small girl, Raka, who is haunted by a sense of futility. Raka is a most mysterious and unnaturally complicated child character in the entire gamut of Indian fiction. Children her age have typical interests like fairytales, butterflies etc, but Raka regales in ugliness, destruction, danger and despair. Her imagination is weird and she is irresistibly drawn to strange things. Thirdly, it presents the plight of a helpless woman, Ila Das who is in conflict with forces that are too powerful to be encountered, resulting in her tragic death.
Like all her other works, the present novel contains neither any story value nor events that are interesting by themselves. The story element is very thin and there is practically no action except for the tragic end, which itself is so abrupt that you are left wanting more, simply to make the story in your head end!
But Anita Desai’s an exceptional writer with rare sensitivity and perspective. She’s certainly brilliant with her existential themes of solitude, alienation, the futility of human existence and struggle for survival. The imagery in the book is breathtaking. It’s rich with her love for the “prey-predator” imagery. Images of ugliness, loneliness, destruction and annihilation are consistently used to reflect the existential tone of the novel. An atmosphere of solitary introspection is created.
In fact, deprived of its strong imagery, “Fire on the Mountain” would be an ugly skeleton, chilling the reader…..the significant house imagery, the images of plants, colour, atmosphere and moon, the mountain fire, all contribute to the textual density and symbolism of the novel.