March 2009

East of the Sun by Julia Gregson is set in 1928/1929. This is the story of three young English women travelling to India. Rose is to marry a young Army Officer she barely knows. Victoria, a childhood friend, is to be Bridesmaid and is escaping a bullying mother and hoping to find a husband. Viva, a would-be writer is returning to the India of her childhood to solve mysteries surrounding her parents’ death there, when she was only nine years old.

Having been well researched we were presented with vivid descriptions of the girls’ voyage on the P and O liner to Bombay. There was also some insight given in to the life-style of the British in Colonial India, and the restlessness of a growing section of Indian Society at the occupation of their country, and the emerging influence of Ghandi.

Unfortunately although we enjoyed the book, we found it full of errors with plot lines that suddenly abandoned some characters to an unknown fate and, whilst she gave “life” to the women in the book, her portrayal of men was less convincing.

The book must have had little or no editing, because some of the language used was not of that era! Words like rug-rat, sprog and scam and using ‘might of’ instead of ‘might have’ was particularly unfortunate.

Members found the final third of the novel more enjoyable and convincing than earlier chapters, presumably because she may not have had first hand experience of a voyage to India with P & O, but did travel in India.

This book is something of an enigma and difficult to recommend. Despite the failings it had a good, gripping story line and clever re-creation of atmosphere and place. Perhaps one is being unfair to the author and one should not expect every book to be a masterpiece. However there is disappointment that this, with more care, could have been so much better.

East of the Sun is not in the same class as Paul Scott’s “Jewel in the Crown” or E.M Forster’s “Passage to India” nor does it purport to be, but is a Richard & Judy ‘Summer Read’ and should be accepted as just that.

Next month we shall be discussing The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai on Thursday, 9th April.


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