I think I must be losing my tolerance for books written to a theme, rather than the author’s burning desire to tell a story. This one is about Raj orphans, those children of parents busily engaged on the work of the British Empire in India or various parts of the Far East. While their parents swanned around the British Clubs and drank their gins and tonics and suffered from repeated bouts of malaria, the children were brought up by local ayahs or nannies, shipped home to relatives or foster parents at school age and shunted through boarding schools and Oxbridge until they, too, were old enough to be useful to the establishment.
And I’m sure it’s all deeply worthy and symbolic
and all the rest of it. Parts of it are unexpectedly glorious, like
little stars of perceptiveness in a velvet-black sky of nothingness.
Trouble is, the whole wobbly edifice rests on the characters, and,
frankly, I never cared about any of them. I like my fiction to tell a
story, not be a collection of vignettes of eccentricity. Then there are
outbreaks of unforgiveably pretentious writing: "...the train swayed
insolently through Clapham Junction." I mean, good grief. I got through
fifty percent before giving up. But it’s sold by the shed-load, and the
most popular shelf on Goodreads is ‘book club’ so clearly it works for a
lot of people. Just not for me. One star for a DNF.