Friday, 15 August 2014

A House Called Askival by Merryn Glover

review by Maryom

For over 20 years Ruth Connor has been estranged from her family - travelling the world and living anywhere so long as it isn't back home in India. As a child growing up in Mussoorie in the north of the country, she always felt that her parents' hospital and missionary work took precedence and she only held second place in their affections. Now, with her father dying, she's heading back there - to try to bridge the gulf between them and to face the dreadful events that led to her leaving...

A House Called Askival is a mix of family epic and historical fiction -  a story of family conflict set against the backdrop of the greater conflict that is India's recent history. Three generations of American missionary family, the Connors, have lived at Askival, situated in a formerly-splendid Hill Station where the wives and families of the British Raj escaped from the heat of India's dry season. Their lives have been shaped by India, its people, its devastating poverty and violent upheavals, and both Ruth and her father are haunted by tragic events in the past.
The story starts as Ruth returns home after a 24 year absence, but progresses through flashbacks to her own and her father's childhood and teenage years, giving hints to the reasons behind their falling out and the guilt that both have carried for years, teasing the reader along, but saving the big reveals till very near the end (as you'd expect).

The star of it really is India - its sights, sounds and smells, and turbulent history from Partition to the death of Indira Gandhi. The life-changing events that occur to both James and Ruth happen while India is in a state of lawlessness - for James, it leads to dedicating his life to serving India, regardless of personal sacrifice; for Ruth, it severs the final link that tied her to India and her family, and she can't leave quickly enough.

 Just occasionally I thought there was a little too much obsession with the minutiae of 'school-life', at the expense of moving the plot forward. Boarding school I imagine can be a very insular place, a closed community wrapped up in its own concerns and priorities, but even so I found Ruth amazingly ignorant of events in the outside world. Maybe in part this was a plot device to explain the background of politics and racial tensions to the reader but it did make Ruth seem very blinkered and undeserving of sympathy.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Freight Books
Genre -  Adult, historical fiction

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