01 October 2010

East of the Sun by Julia Gregson

Strong men, beautiful women, invisible natives
If you enjoy romantic, somewhat historical novels – go for it, particularly if you have a thing for Raj nostalgia. The plot is dubious but the pace of the story is engaging and made me want to keep reading – even when I got to bits pertaining to Bombay, Pune and Ooty, all places I’ve lived in, that felt out of tune with my knowledge of them. Even some of the Hindi and Marathi phrases sounded made up – or perhaps poor Julia Gregson and her publishers were duped by the Indian experts who they surely hired to vet them for her.
Rose and Victoria are sailing to India where Rose is to marry Jack Chandler, an officer with an Indian Cavalry regiment. Victoria is not just Rose’s best friend but a hopeful contender of the infamous Fishing Fleet. (Will she return home disappointed? Or be so overeager that she only manages to attract blackguards who will exploit her? Indeed, will she find true love at last?)
The heroine is Viva who was born in India but dogged by tragedy since childhood. She is chaperone to the two young women – and also to a strange young man, Guy Glover, whose is never satisfactorily explained in the course of the book. Viva is on her way to Simla where a trunk awaits her.
From Rose’s trousseau shopping (The next time she wore this, she’d be in Jack Chandler’s bed) to the long sea voyage, descriptions of cantonment life, socialising in Bombay, and hill retreats for the “hot weather”, there’s hardly anything here that will stop this from becoming a cult book to which future generations might refer while drawing on sources to learn about British India!