Wednesday, 21 October 2009

East Of The Sun by Julia Gregson

Another novel set in India, and I never get bored of them. Ridiculous, I know; having never been to India it is bizarre that I should love it and even miss it when I don't dive into another fictional world set in its tumultuous, richly-coloured landscape. But I do!

This one is a little different than some I've read recently - it is set in the late 1920s - when India was still under British rule, but only just. Three young English women are venturing to Bombay, each for their own reasons. Rose is the young naive bride-to-be of Captain Jack Chandler of the British army; Victoria (Tor) is her best friend in the world, accompanying Rose not only to help her with the wedding and be a bridesmaid, but also to escape her overbearing mother & hopefully snag a husband for herself.

Viva, their chaperone - is another story altogether. An independent woman in an age when that is unusual, she is mysterious & vague about her past. She has no family to speak of but is on the way to a remote part of India where she grew up to retrieve a trunk left to her in her parents' will; and her aloofness makes her strangely alluring to everyone she meets - especially Guy, her other charge: a moody, pimply teenager prone to getting in trouble and with an increasingly dark side.

Gregson delivers another richly illustrated and dramatic portrait of India in a tense political period. On the one hand, there is Tor's 'British India' with the 'season' and parties at the Bombay Yacht Club; luxurious estate houses with servants & exotic fruits & drinks at one's disposal. Then there's Rose's new life as a military wife, bundled off to Poona & coping with heat, flies, isolation and talk of baby-thieving monkeys. Viva's Bombay life is something else; much more immersed in the political & social agitation of the time, and the smiling, hopeful faces of children amongst all the poverty & crime & dirt. Though the three women move in very different directions, they attempt to maintain their friendship and when things come to a head with Guy & his obsessive behaviour, they need each other more than ever.

A great read, full of all the near-palpable sights & smells I love about India novels, and with the quaint, sweet finesse of a book about Englishwomen. Add a bit of mystery to the mix & you have East Of The Sun. Thanks to my dear friend Kate, who recommended this book to me & thus put it on my radar.

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