The Goddess and the Thief
Only the other week, I came across the term “Oriental Gothic”. And that is exactly how I would describe Essie Fox’s latest novel, because Victorian Gothic is a genre she has made very much her own with her two previous novels: The Somnambulist and Elijah’s Mermaid.
In this new novel we explore the relationship between Britain and India. Alice is sent back to England, after an idyllic Indian childhood, to live with her aunt in Windsor, leaving behind all she loves: the warmth, colour and vibrancy of the country and its people, especially her beloved ayah. Her aunt dabbles in spirituality, holding séances and deceiving those who mourn. She is aided and abetted by the mysterious Mr Tilsbury who, when he meets Alice, sees her as the conduit through which he can plan the theft of the infamous Koh-i-Noor diamond which was presented (or stolen, depending on your point of view) by the British Crown and is now part of the Crown Jewels crown.
This is the author’s most ambitious novel so far. Rich and sensuous, its scope is wide, incorporating the Victorian obsession with death, with opium and with India.
I am always impressed by the way the author takes her inspiration from classic Victorian novels without resorting to pastiche. However, there is a great deal of Hindu mysticism, myth and religion in which I found myself floundering. But my main problem with the novel is that I totally failed to see Tisbury’s charisma.
However, my lack of response to this renders The Goddess and the Thief a bit disappointing when it promises so much. Having said that, this novel is well worth reading and I look forward to many more.