Autumn 1928. The Kaiser-i-Hind is en route to Bombay. In Cabin D38, Viva Hollowat, an inexperienced chaperone, is worried she’s made a terrible mistake. Her advert in The Lady has resulted in three unsettling charges to be escorted to India.
Rose, a beautiful, dangerously naive English girl, is about to be married to the cavalry officer she has met only a handful of times.
Victoria, the bridesmaid, is determined to lose her virginity on the journey before finding a husband of her own in India. And overshadowing all three of them, the malevolent presence of Guy Glover, a strange and disturbed schoolboy.
Three potential Memsahibs with a myriad of reasons for leaving England, but the cargo of hopes and secrets they carry has done little to prepare them for what lies ahead.
East of the Sun was a book I desperately wanted to enjoy but ultimately failed, mainly because I felt no attachment to any of the characters and the Indian setting was lacklustre.
The book is set in the late 1920s when India was still under British rule but political upheaval in the region and the emergence of Gandhi meant everything was about to change. Since the book’s main focus was on the three young ladies, the political situation in India was merely hinted at despite the undercurrents running throughout the book. For the most part, the ladies are still able to enjoy their colonial lifestyle and never feel like they are in any danger. I love books set in India and I’m sure this must have been a fascinating time in British-Indian history but it was never properly examined.
Our three young heroines are all heading to India for different reasons and ultimately their stay in the country will change them. The childish Rose is on her way to marry an English officer she barely knows and is ill-prepared for marriage; Victoria (Tor), Rose’s frumpy bridesmaid, is hoping to snag herself a husband to get away from her domineering mother; and Viva, a writer, acts as chaperone to the other two to pay for her passage back to India where she hopes to confront her past. Once they arrive in India, each of them must come to terms with disappointment and heartbreak, before finding the means within themselves to improve their lives. For the most part, they are successful but things fall into place a little to quickly for my liking which means the ending fell a little flat. I also found it a struggle to like any of the girls which made it harder to care about them since Rose is too weak, Tor is too irritating and Viva is far too aloof. When the girls do change for the better, it happens far too near the end of the book for it to be anything but rushed and there were a lot of threads left hanging.
Viva’s third companion on her voyage to India is a sixteen year old boy called Guy who has an unnatural fixation on her and is mentally disturbed. Guy pops in and out of the story at the strangest times to cause trouble for Viva but we are never given any explanations for his behaviour, other than a possible diagnosis of schizophrenia. I really did not see the point of his character and the times when he appeared were more irritating than anything else.
I knew by the length of time it was taking me to read this book that I wasn’t totally enamoured with the story, otherwise I would’ve had it read within a couple of days. For me, the best part was the voyage over to India when the girls were onboard the ship, Kaiser i Hind, (the name of which is misspelled through the entire book much to my annoyance) forming their initial bond and dreaming of the future. Once they arrive in India, the girls go their separate ways and the story really begins to drag from this point onwards and I was tempted to give up on it on more than once but I really don’t like doing that, so stuck with it to the end.