A story of what home means, what belonging means. A book that questions who we are, and lays bare the Britain of today. It’s the story of three women: Evelyn, an engineer’s wife in British India; Magda, an old lady stuck in an empty house; and Susheela, a young English carer of Bengali descent in a British seaside town on the verge of collapse.
Magda is a former scientist with a bad temper and a sharp tongue, living alone in a huge house by the sea. Confined to a wheelchair, her once spotless home crumbling around her, she gets through carers at a rate of knots. Until Susheela arrives, bursting through the doors of Magda’s house, carrying life with her: grief for her mother’s recent death; worry for her father; longing for a beautiful and troubled young man. The two women strike up an unlikely friendship: Magda’s old-fashioned, no-nonsense attitude turns out to be an unexpected source of strength for Susheela; and Susheela’s Bengali heritage brings back memories of Magda’s childhood in colonial India and resurrects the tragic figure of her mother, Evelyn, and her struggle to fit within the suffocating structure of the Raj’s ruling class.
There is huge correlation between the Raj in India, the far right in Britain and the faded seaside Welsh town of Bay’s Mouth. Both have had glory days or thought they had but are now living on that false memory. The daily ongoing casual and direct racism in Britain runs through the story with Evelyn being the racist in India, then Magda in Bay’s Mouth and lastly on the receiving end of abuse is Susheela. Conran weaves through the tale the political message about the lack of social services for the elderly and how we deal with the growing ageing population.
I cannot decide if I liked any of the characters. Magda was not humorous, warm or funny enough to carry off the banter. Evelyn was selfish and found a way to cope that didn’t encourage you to warm to her and Susheela seems to have stumbled from one disaster to another. Was it a happy, sweet wrapped up ending? Maybe…
What I loved about the novel was that the three women are fascinating characters, albeit I didn’t warm to any and bringing them together in the novel makes for a strong story. This would be a perfect book group novel because there is tons to discuss and debate over.
9781474609432/Weidenfeld & Nicholson/£14.99