This was one of my Reading Group reads and also a Chunkster one, coming in at 480 pages. I have mixed feelings about the book. The history and locale I did enjoy very much. I have visited India and seen the incredible vibrancy of life lived at top volume and the author has captured this to a certain extent, it is an impossible achievement, no collection of words could adequately describe the experience. Her portrayal of one section of colonial life also was believable. But one is left with the impression that all colonials in India behaved in that way which, of course, they didn’t.
More impatient readers in our reading group- thought the action was slow but I thought it suited the historical setting; the long privileged sea journey, cruise style, the hot languorous days in India. It conjured up a vision of a less frenetic lifestyle. The story unfolds much like an extravagantly wrapped gift and half the fun is in that unwrapping – do not be impatient in the reading.
Julia Gregson also managed to contrast the different cultures and lifestyles well. Between the Raj and the Indian population, between those who were there just to take and enjoy and those who wished to ‘help’. The lack of understanding and the assumptions each culture brought to bear. Dispersing some of our modern assumptions as she did so.
It was interesting to see how even those who did not ‘rule’, who were trying to help out of the charity of their hearts/conscious were distrusted and despised because of how their ‘good works’ and ‘intentions’ imposed alien values onto the ‘helped’ culture.
I am not a romance reader as such and I found the three girls love affairs vaguely tedious, but I was assured by those who read romances that they were well portrayed take their word for that.
The most satisfactory strand of the girls’ lives, for me, was that of Rose. Although it was the most disastrous, it portrayed the whole crazy colonial business of marrying one’s own kind, no matter what so well. Going native not being a ‘decent’ option. Rose had only known her future husband a few weeks, could barely remember what he looked like and was so unprepared for marriage I’m surprised she stayed the course! She summed up the whole ‘child of the army’ ideal. Knowing her duty, willing to sacrifice herself for cherished ideals, with well bred chin held high she made a fair stab at a life that would have sent a lesser girl screaming into a pit of hell.
Viva on a quest to reclaim her past, finds the truth is not straight forward. There are a fascinating few chapters on how the invention and reinvention of lives in the past changes present thoughts; how it is impossible to know truth from fabrication in the end.
Victoria was a favourite with many of the book group. Desperate for a husband, any husband. Never having been in that predicament I found I had less sympathy for her. Victoria irritated me, I was left wanting to shake her and tell her to behave better – I’m growing old I fear! ?
As always with an historical novel the student side of me kicked in and I was left wanting to know far more about the political situation running through the backdrop of the girl’s stories. Unfair of me because it was not that kind of book, which is why I do not pick these books normally. I should read history books if I wish to know about history!
I found East of the Sun an easy book to read and despite my half hearted opinion I did read it without flagging, and was engaged with the characters. I beleive it is a very good read of its genre.