Gosh, I was surprised by the one star review! I came across this when it was first published 30 years ago and kept it on the keeper shelf from which it has been taken down every 4-5 years for a re-read. Years later, Joanna Trollope's contemporary "Aga Sagas" began to appear and it took me a while to make the connection. As Caroline Harvey, she was getting to grips with story telling but of a completely different type than her later work. I love the Caroline Harvey books of which there are 5 or 6.
I particularly relish stories set in India. A couple of years ago I read White Moghuls and so thought I ought to read this again. The former made the latter an even better read.
This is a sad, difficult story, yes - that's very true. Equally, it is a story of great courage against a deck firmly stacked against our heroine, Caroline Parson Gates. Caroline is a second daughter in a mid-Georgian rectory, lacking looks, money and easy charm. Life seems to be a deadend of service and servitude. However, due to the machinations of a rich and influential neighbour, she is sent off to India with the "Fishing Fleet" to marry a man she met briefly years ago and under whose charms she fell. It's not going to work. He is lecherous, a drunkard and worse. However, Caroline gradually develops perserverance and fortitude and falls in love with India itself - she is willing to understand and learn about those natives with whom she lives and gradually gains terrific insight into the world around her.
A very senior government figure, Sir Edward Ashton, is charmed by her; indeed, there is a real sense of the "coup de foudre" here only it is from the masculine perspective. He, too, is a lover of India, its people and history. and they are very well matched.
Needless to say there are problems for this relationship. First a husband who is hateful and weak; poverty due to squalour and neglect and lastly honour and pride. Although not an easy to read, everything all right on the night romance, eventually everything comes right. If you want marshmallow fluff, this is not for you. But, if you like carefully plotted and very character-driven stories full of introspection then perhaps you will like this. The descriptions of mid-18th century Calcutta are very evocative. The little asides about clothing sticking to one's back due to the humidity and overwhelming heat, the descriptions of the markets, food, servants, house construction, gardens, etc. are very well done and you feel yourself sometimes the heat and dust, monsoon and overwhelming stench. And, the author writes with prose that flows easily yet is highly crafted and polished.
It's remaining, after 30 years, on the keeper shelf and this time I won't wait another 5 years to read it again. I do recommend this.