13 May 2013

Miss Timmins' School for Girls by Nayana Currimbhoy

The Thane of Fife had a wife. Where is she now?

My last blog post was in October. For the 6+ months since then, I was unable to read. After a relentless book-a-week schedule of more than five years, it was disconcerting. For stretches I forgot that there was such a thing as reading. There were also occasions when I tried to pick up a book and found myself unable to get into it. I began to reconcile myself to the possibility that black-and-white fountain was drying up.
One day, I realised that I had actually finished reading a book. It had taken me several months, much longer than a book usually takes. One reason was because it was an unusually long book replete with intricate detail. Another was because I was reading it aloud to my friend Gladys, to whom I read aloud for 2 hours every Tuesday morning, because she can no longer read herself. Both of us enjoyed it very much. Gladys, an intellectual and particularly well read – she was a career librarian – will always boast that she loves a good murder mystery. As we read, she complained that the book was going on and on a bit too much. However, we both agreed that the biggest charm of this book lies in its detail.
Miss Timmins’ School for Girls is in Panchgani and perhaps by a coincidence, or perhaps not, appears very similar to the Kimmins’ High School, a hoary girls’ boarding school in the same town. Although this book is probably not based on a true murder mystery in the real Kimmins’, it certainly paints a very lifelike picture of what things were like there in the 1970s, the period in which this book is set.
Having studied at a boarding school myself around then, I could certainly relate to various fine aspects that emerge in the narration, such as the interactions between students, and between teachers and students; the emotional environment and general value systems; the emphasis on English literature and the general snobbishness of the English speaker; as well as characteristics of life in a small town.
I found this book easy to read and enjoyed it, in particular the many different life realities of that particular time and place that it introduces the reader to. As a murder mystery, the plot is strong and convincing. I found the many meandering diversions and descriptions of the narrative not just interesting, but invaluable as a historical account of the time. However, I don’t think this approach lends itself to a pace that would satisfy someone looking for a thrilling page-turner.