This year is either hence to be know the Year of the Swedish Detective or the Year of Discovering Books. Like ‘A Thousand Acres’ by Jane Smiley, which I loved, I have read soooo many books this year that otherwise would have passed me by had it not been for a)relentless buying of them in charity shops And The Like and b)the Travelling Suitcase Library book swaps, which have become integral to my reading lists.
The Far Pavilions, of which I shall now be spewing praise upon, came from the former road. I was in Poverty Aid and had £2 so decided to treat myself. The book was approx two inches thick, had a picture of a naked man on the cover, and cost 50 p. Bonus.
I didn’t read the book for about six months; like many ‘readers’ I have to work, eat, wash etc so cannot devote my days entirely to my favorite pastime and therefore result in piles upon piles of to-be-reads. And I get donated approx thirty books a month to the TSL, which it would be wrong to thrust upon my public unsavored, so you see where the dilemma lies in the reading of/reducing the pile.
I then started the book. It was brilliant, but very very very heavy. There are 950 pages and the copy is older than me. So it became a ‘bed-time read’, relegated to the status of a hardback or book I’m too embarrassed to take on the train to work (porn). Then I went and bought Heartstone (ohmygosh N hurry up and READ THE BOOK so I can rant about how VERY VERY GOOD IT IS) and THEN I read a whole load of books that I just couldn’t put down so it was a while before I came back to the book. Then I realised what a fatal mistake I had in relegating it thus, cut it down the middle (strike me down all you want, I’ve repaired it now) and read it properly.
This book is Epic. Starting (and that’s the only word you can really use!) with the Indian Mutiny of 1857 (I think, one of the only things this book falls down on is not providing much in the way of dates. Or maps. Which is annoying), the story is Ashton Pelham Martyn’s, who is born in India to British parents, who both die when he is young. Left to the care of his maid Sita, he he brought up a Hindu after she decides it is too risky for the boy to be an Angrezi at a time of such hostility towards them. Sita and Ashok, as is becomes known, live for a time in the mountainous state of Gulkote, where Ashok finds work in the palace of the young Yuveraj (crown prince, I think) Lalji. Lalji is a spoilt bad tempered brat whose life is in constant danger due to the jealousy of his step mother and her children, and Ashok and Sita are forced to flee one night when he uncovers a plot to kill the young prince, leaving behind his only really friend, the young princess Juli.
And that all happens in the first 200 pages.
More like four books in one, the scope of this novel, considering it is only the life of one man and one country (apart from a little bit when Ash returns to Blighty upon finding out his true identity) is just huge. We see peasants and princes, Calvary and seamen, sahibs and sultans, the back streets of Kabul, the horror of the suttee, elephants, tiger hunts, the beginnings of Polo, friendship, religion, love, loyalty, patriotism, what it means to be “from” a place, or not from it as the case may be, passion, war, death, birth, betrayal, and above everything else, adventure and a quest for the self.
I had to come up for air, during parts of this book, and was very very rude to an old friend I had not seen for a long time on a train because I was in the middle of the most exciting bit. Sorry, Daisy.
This is my only criticism; the most exciting, dramatic and well written (apart from the first 100 pages) is in the middle of the book. But that is only because I like romance stories that involve a bit of history and am not massively into battles and such. For Sharpe fans, or possibly Master and Commander/Flash addicts, the last section would be your favorite. That is how good this book is. Like the scene in Black Books where the couple come into the shop and look for a book for their holidays and Bernard sells them both the same one under the line “She’s a temp, she can’t get a boyfriend, oh my God. And She’s got 24 hours to stop nuclear war with China”, this book ticks all the boxes. Read it. It will take you forever, but is so worth it! Cannot believe it has escaped my notice before now. Thank you Poverty Aid.
ps try as I might I cannot get a picture of *my* front cover, with the naked man on it. This leads me to believe it is very rare. Slightly regretting cutting it in half now. Oh well.
* not the gush, that would be gross.