The Peachgrowers’ Almanac
This debut novel is set in India and England in 1857. It is narrated in turns by twin sisters, Lilian and Alice. Lilian has been married off to a dull missionary and sent to India as punishment for some mysterious sin while Alice has remained at home with an eccentric father, his strange collection of all manner of artifacts and several aunts. Both sisters are somewhat similar in character as both are strong-willed, independent and intelligent. Nevertheless, they still struggle in different ways to be taken seriously in a man’s world.
The style is one of quirky dry humour as it pokes fun at the social mores of the day. Underneath the amusing observational wit, serious themes such as male control of women in a patriarchal society, attitudes to colonialism and the advancement of science are examined. The Victorian era is well depicted, particularly in the descriptions of scientific developments in various fields, including early flying machines and photography. The hypocrisy at the centre of Victorian life is clearly revealed, particularly in the sinister figure of Dr Cattermole, who wishes to use his medical knowledge to control women in an especially nasty way. These serious themes resonate strongly with the reader, who is reminded that there are parts of the world where things like this still occur. The garish cover is somewhat off-putting, but the novel itself is very enjoyable, funny and horrific by turns and with well-drawn, memorable characters. Very much recommended.