The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott

End of Empire…

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It’s 1942 and tensions are running high in India. Britain, with its usual high-handedness, has decided that Indian troops will join the war effort without consulting the Indian leaders. Gandhi is demanding that the British quit India, even though that will probably mean that the Japanese move in. When the British arrest the leaders of the Independence movement, for a few short days the peace of Mayapore is broken as rioters take to the streets. And in that time one British woman will see her idealistic dreams destroyed while another will be brutally raped. Eighteen years later, an unnamed researcher will come to Mayapore to try to discover the truth of what happened in those days.

Scott starts by telling us:

This is the story of a rape, of the events that led up to it and followed it and of the place in which it happened. There are the action, the people, and the place; all of which are interrelated but in their totality incommunicable in isolation from the moral continuum of human affairs.

But in fact it’s the story of two rapes – the rape perpetrated on Daphne Manners, a white girl who made the fatal mistake of falling in love with an Indian man, and the rape perpetrated by the British Empire on the culture, society and people of India. Written at the height of the breast-beating anti-Colonial guilt experienced in Britain following the gradual letting go of their empire, Scott shows no mercy in his dissection of the evils committed, not so much by individual Brits, though there’s some of that, but by the imposition of one dominant culture over another.

The book is told in a series of sections, each concentrating on one character, and gradually building to create an in-depth picture of fictional Mayapore, which functions as a manageable microcosm for India as a whole. It takes a long time to get to Daphne’s story, deliberately, as Scott circles round, showing life in Mayapore from many different angles and over a period of years both before and after the event, creating a feeling of eventual inevitability about her rape as a thing that rises out of that ‘moral continuum of human affairs’, and feeds back into it.

Scott uses many different styles to tell his story. Some parts are first person “spoken” accounts told to the researcher, some are third person narratives, some take the form of letters between characters, or official reports, and some come from Daphne’s journal. In the third person sections, where it’s written, presumably, in the author’s own style, the language is frequently complex, rather spare and understated at the moments of greatest emotion, but often with lush beauty in the descriptive passages, creating a wonderful sense of this town and the surrounding country. In the other sections, Scott creates individual voices for each of the narrators, suited to the form they’re using, and he sustains these superbly so that one gets a real feel for the personalities behind even the driest and most factual reports.

Some of the sections are intensely human stories, like that of Edwina Crane, a woman who has devoted her empty and lonely life to the Church of England mission schools that teach the Indian children how to be good little English-speaking Christians. Her admiration for Gandhi has finally been destroyed by his recent actions and she has found that the Indian women she had looked to for a meagre form of social life are no longer so keen to be patronised by white women. Or the story of Hari Kumar, an Indian boy brought up in England and suddenly transported back to the country of his birth, where he is an outsider to both cultures – unable to speak the Indian languages and lacking knowledge of their way of life, but as a ‘native’ he is not allowed to be a part of the British community either, despite his impeccable English manners and education.

Other sections are told to the researcher and although their purpose is to shed light on Daphne’s story, the characters reveal as much about themselves along the way: Lady Lili Chatterjee, high caste and with a British title via her deceased husband, she is respected by the British but still subjected to constant, often unthinking, discrimination; or Mr Srinivasan, a lawyer who was involved in the Independence movement, and who shows us the Indian perspective on the political questions. The reports from the military and civil authorities are formal in style, but are accompanied by letters to the researcher, where the characters are able to look back on and reassess events with the perspective of time passed.

And in the last section we learn Daphne’s own story in her own words – not just the story of her rape, but of her life, of the choices she made and of her reasons for making them.

Paul Scott

Scott creates a vivid and believable picture of the society, culture and politics that led to this moment in time, but he never forgets to put people at the heart of it. While some sections are focused very much on the political situation and, as a result, might be rather dry for readers who are less interested in that aspect, these are broken up by the often intensely intimate stories of the characters, many of whom become unforgettable. Since I’m fascinated by the British Empire, and India especially, I found the political stuff just as engrossing as the personal. Superbly written, intelligent at the political level and deeply moving at the personal – a wonderful novel.

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Book 20 of 20

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….Breton went steadily forward along the road. That was easy work, but when he turned off and began to thread his way up the fell-side by what was obviously no more than a sheep-track, Spargo’s troubles began. It seemed to him that he was walking as in a nightmare; all that he saw was magnified and heightened; the darkening sky above; the faint outlines of the towering hills; the gaunt spectres of fir and pine; the figure of Breton forging stolidly and surely ahead. Now the ground was soft and spongy under his feet; now it was stony and rugged; more than once he caught an ankle in the wire-like heather and tripped, bruising his knees. And in the end he resigned himself to keeping his eye on Breton, outlined against the sky, and following doggedly in his footsteps.

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….Next, there is the image of a garden: not the Bibighar garden but the garden of the MacGregor House: intense sunlight, deep and complex shadows. The range of green is extraordinary, palest lime, bitter emerald, mid-tones, neutral tints. The textures of the leaves are many and varied, they communicate themselves through sight to imaginary touch, exciting the finger-tips: leaves coming into the tenderest flesh, superbly in their prime, crisping to an old age; all this at the same season because here there is no autumn. In the shadows there are dark blue veils, the indigo dreams of plants fallen asleep, and odours of sweet and necessary decay, numerous places layered with the cast-off fruit of other years softened into compost, feeding the living roots that lie under the garden massively, in hungry immobility.
….From the house there is the sound of a young girl singing. She sings a raga, the song of the young bride saying goodbye to her parents, before setting out on the journey to her new home far away.

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….“Well, gentlemen, everybody in the world now knows what I found that night. The man who called himself Doctor Charles – we never found another name for him – was lying on his face on the floor. He had been shot clean between the eyes. The door was locked on the inside and the key was on the mat. There was also a bolt on the door which was thrust firmly home. On a table near the body were two roughly drawn maps, without lettering, and I remember getting a thick ear from my superior when I suggested that one of them traced exactly the itinerary of the Ripper murders of eighty-eight. But the most extraordinary thing was that there was no revolver either in the room or anywhere in the house. There was a thorough police search – and I need not tell you what that means. To all intents and purposes the man died in a box sealed from the inside, and the gun he was shot with might well have been a phantom. There was never a trace of it found anywhere.”

From Room to Let by Margery Allingham

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….Seated at a small table surrounded by graven idols, the windows closed to the boiling air, he drank sassafras beer and agreed with his host about the weather and dismissed his apologies for making him endure it to come all this way. That said, D’Ortega swiftly got to business. Disaster had struck. Jacob had heard about it, but listened politely with a touch of compassion to the version this here client/debtor recounted. D’Ortega’s ship had been anchored a nautical mile from shore for a month waiting for a vessel, due any day, to replenish what he had lost. A third of his cargo had died of ship fever. Fined five thousand pounds of tobacco by the Lord Proprietarys’ magistrate for throwing their bodies too close to the bay; forced to scoop up the corpses – those they could find (they used pikes and nets, D’Ortega said, a purchase which itself cost two pounds, six) – and ordered to burn or bury them. He’d had to pile them in two drays (six shillings), cart them out to low land where saltweed and alligators would finish the work.

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….“How do I know?” said Mrs. Oliver crossly. “How do I know why I ever thought of the revolting man? I must have been mad! Why a Finn when I know nothing about Finland? Why a vegetarian? Why all the idiotic mannerisms he’s got? These things just happen. You try something – and people seem to like it – and then you go on – and before you know where you are, you’ve got someone like that maddening Sven Hjerson tied to you for life. And people even write and say how fond you must be of him. Fond of him? If I met that bony gangling vegetable eating Finn in real life, I’d do a better murder than any I’ve ever invented.”

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So… are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 203…

Episode 203

Well, people, I’ve read nothing this week. Nada. Zilch. Don’t ask me why – I don’t know. Don’t ask me what I’ve been doing with all that extra time I must have had to do other things in – I don’t know. Don’t ask me when I’m suddenly going to start reading again – I don’t know. Don’t ask me when I’ll ever write the outstanding reviews that have been waiting so long I’ve pretty much forgotten the books – I don’t know. Don’t ask me how many books are on my TBR – I don….

Oh, OK, I do know the answer to that last one actually. Up 2 again to 224, which considering I haven’t finished a book since 18th June isn’t as bad as it might be. Don’t you judge me!

Here are a few more that I should be reading soon, but don’t ask me when – I don’t know…

All oldies this week and all from my 20 Books of Summer list, which would be going much better if I was actually reading…

Historical Fiction

This is a re-read of a book which I remember enjoying so I should be on safe ground with it. And it will complete another of the Main Journey destinations on my Around the World challenge…

The Blurb says: India 1942: everything is in flux. World War II has shown that the British are not invincible and the self-rule lobby is gaining many supporters. Against this background, Daphne Manners, a young English girl, is brutally raped in the Bibighat Gardens. The racism, brutality and hatred launched upon the head of her young Indian lover echo the dreadful violence perpetrated on Daphne and reveal the desperate state of Anglo-Indian relations. The rift that will eventually prise India – the jewel in the Imperial Crown – from colonial rule is beginning to gape wide.

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Spy Thriller

I might be the only person in the entire blogosphere who has never read a le Carré novel, but that’s about to change! This one is from my Classics Club list…

The Blurb says: Alex Leamas is tired. It’s the 1960s, he’s been out in the cold for years, spying in Berlin for his British masters, and has seen too many good agents murdered for their troubles. Now Control wants to bring him in at last – but only after one final assignment.

He must travel deep into the heart of Communist Germany and betray his country, a job that he will do with his usual cynical professionalism. But when George Smiley tries to help a young woman Leamas has befriended, Leamas’s mission may prove to be the worst thing he could ever have done.

In le Carré’s breakthrough work of 1963, the spy story is reborn as a gritty and terrible tale of men who are caught up in politics beyond their imagining. With a new introduction by William Boyd and an afterword by le Carré himself.

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Science Fiction

Another from my Classics Club list and the winner of the last Classic Club spin, although I’m very late reading it. Have I read it before or haven’t I? I don’t know! I certainly feel as if I know the story but I’ve realised that with a lot of these classics I think I’ve read long ago, I probably actually know them from a film or TV adaptation. Time will tell…

The Blurb says: After a nuclear World War III has destroyed most of the globe, the few remaining survivors in southern Australia await the radioactive cloud that is heading their way and bringing certain death to everyone in its path. Among them is an American submarine captain struggling to resist the knowledge that his wife and children in the United States must be dead. Then a faint Morse code signal is picked up, transmitting from somewhere near Seattle, and Captain Towers must lead his submarine crew on a bleak tour of the ruined world in a desperate search for signs of life. On the Beach is a remarkably convincing portrait of how ordinary people might face the most unimaginable nightmare.

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Don’t know what to categorise it as…

Oh, dear! After my reaction to Book 1 in the Jackson Brodie sorta-crime/maybe-literary/possibly-contemporary/maybe-none-of-the-above series, I can’t say I’m looking forward to this one at all. But at least my expectations are so low that if it surprises me this time, it can only be in a good way…

The Blurb says: It is summer, it is the Edinburgh Festival. People queuing for a lunchtime show witness a road-rage incident – a near-homicidal attack which changes the lives of everyone involved. Jackson Brodie, ex-army, ex-police, ex-private detective, is also an innocent bystander – until he becomes a murder suspect.

As the body count mounts, each member of the teeming Dickensian cast’s story contains a kernel of the next, like a set of nesting Russian dolls. They are all looking for love or money or redemption or escape: but what each actually discovers is their own true self.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

TBR Thursday 23…

Episode 23 – The People’s Choice…again…

 

The old TBR list is down to a just-about-bearable 95 this week, so I need your help again in deciding which of the delectable temptations from around the blogosphere deserves that coveted spot as no. 96.

Are you up to the challenge? Here’s my shortlist – an eclectic bunch, I think you’ll agree. So which is it to be? The winner will be announced next Thursday…

With my usual grateful thanks to all the reviewers who’ve intrigued and inspired me over the last few weeks, here are:

The Contenders…

 

finding soutbekThe Blurb – The focal point of the novel is the small town of Soutbek. Its troubles, hardships and corruption, but also its kindness, strong community and friendships, are introduced to us in a series of stories about intriguingly interlinked relationships. Contemporary Soutbek is still a divided town – the upper town destitute, and the lower town rich, largely ignorant – and through a series of vivid scenes, the troubled relationship between Pieter Fortuin, the town’s first coloured mayor, and his wife Anna is revealed.

Verity says: “This is a story about people, impoverished people and people trying to break free from the bonds of impoverishment. It is a story about a forgotten people who are trying their best to live in small towns on the outskirts of urban life in contemporary South Africa but where change has not yet arrived and where poverty threatens to extinguish them before it does.

See the full review at Lilolia

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the phantom tollboothThe BlurbMilo mopes in black ink sketches, until he assembles a tollbooth and drives through. He jumps to the island of Conclusions. But brothers King Azaz of Dictionopolis and the Mathemagician of Digitopolis war over words and numbers. Joined by ticking watchdog Tock and adult-size Humbug, Milo rescues the Princesses of Rhyme and Reason, and learns to enjoy life. (Seriously – that’s really the blurb!)

Vishy says The Phantom Tollbooth is a story that can be read by children of all ages, whether one is eight or eighty. When I was halfway through the book, I thought that I would have enjoyed it more if I had read it as a child, but now after having finished it, I think that though I would have enjoyed the story and the wordplay as a child, I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate some of the above references and the depth of some of the insights as much. I think readers of different ages will enjoy the book in different ways. “

See the full review at Vishy’s Blog

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the jewel in the crownThe BlurbThe Jewel in the Crown opens in 1942 as the British fear both Japanese invasion and Indian demands for independence. On the night after the Indian Congress Party votes to support Gandhi, riots break out and an ambitious police sergeant arrests a young Indian for the alleged rape of the woman they both love. (I have no idea why I’ve never read this…)

Beth says: “I particularly enjoyed Daphne’s own journal entries where we find out her secret, and see just how destructive an Anglo-Indian rift can be, especially when an innocent man is accused of a crime he did not commit, purely because it seems impossible to some that two young people of different colours can be lovers.

See the full review at Bibliobeth

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children of the revolutionThe Blurb – A disgraced college lecturer is found murdered with £5,000 in his pocket on a disused railway line near his home. Since being dismissed from his job for sexual misconduct four years previously, he has been living a poverty-stricken and hermit-like existence in this isolated spot. The suspects range from several individuals at the college where he used to teach to a woman who knew the victim back in the early ’70s at Essex University, then a hotbed of political activism. When Banks receives a warning to step away from the case, he realises there is much more to the mystery than meets the eye – for there are plenty more skeletons to come out of the closet . . .

Bill says: This is a Police Procedural, but since it takes place in northern England, near Yorkshire, it has a different feel than an American PP. It is more thoughtful, slower-paced without any intense, thriller-type scenes that many PPs set in the U.S. have. There is a psychological and philosophical component to the story that raises it above most PPs.”

See the full review at Bill’s Book Reviews

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so brilliantly cleverThe BlurbOn June 22, 1954, in the depth of a southern winter, teenage friends Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker went for a walk in a park with Pauline’s mother. Half an hour later the girls returned alone. Honorah Parker lay in a sea of blood on a lonely track. She had been savagely murdered. In this mesmerising book, lawyer and true crime writer Peter Graham tells the whole story for the first time, giving a brilliant account of the crime and ensuing trial, dramatic revelations about the fate of Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker after their release from prison and their strange lives today, and a penetrating insight into the crime using modern psychology.

Lucy B says: His ability to be removed and balanced about the case without appearing callous elevates So Brilliantly Clever above the sensationalist pulp seen in so many true-crime books. Yes Hulme and Parker are murderers, but they have a back-story, a life. They are human too. His intelligent account of the murder trial and the attempted defense of insanity (used in the Parker/Hulme case) under British law makes for fascinating reading. This could be attributed to Grahram’s substantial experience as a barrister in Hong Kong.”

See the full review at Bibliopotamus’ Book Reviews

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NB All blurbs are taken from Goodreads.

So…which should I read? Choose just one or as many as you like – the book with most votes will be this week’s winner…


Hope you pick a good one! 😉