East of the Sun
Rushed into paperback after having been chosen as one of Richard and Judy’s Summer Reads*, this novel tells the story of three girls on their way to India in 1928. Viva is hired to chaperone Rose and Victoria but has personal reasons for wanting to return to the country of her birth which she only vaguely remembers. Rose, a pretty but naïve girl, is about to be married to a young soldier she barely knows. Her best friend and bridesmaid, Victoria (known as Tor) is desperate to escape the crushing influence of her mother and live an independent life. Another of Viva’s charges is Guy, a troubled young man.
We follow them on their sea-voyage and the people they meet and their subsequent experiences. Suffice to say life in India is not what any of them expected, and all emerge from the experience better and wiser people.
There is nothing wrong with this novel. It’s a pleasing page-turner. Then again, I don’t feel it says anything startlingly new about the British presence in India or the ‘passage’ to India. The main characters act exactly as you’d expect. I’ve read it all before and better elsewhere. Paul Scott’s The Raj Quartet comes to mind but there are many more. Minor characters were total stereotypes and many of the plot-lines went nowhere, such as Guy’s breakdown and Viva’s abduction and rescue. (Did the publishers ask the author to ‘beef’ up the narrative?) To me, it carries on long after the original concept has run out of steam.
This is a novel you will either love or, whilst not hate, will wonder what places it above others of its ilk.
*For those who live outside the UK: Richard and Judy are Britain’s TV equivalent to Oprah Winfrey.