Top critical review
Colourfully Described, But No Continuity
on 25 April 2017
Although husband hunting in colonial British India is an incredibly interesting and alluring subject, sadly this book does not present the information in a clear and concise way.
The best feature of this book are the colourful and intoxicating descriptions which vividly display the flavour of British India. From the shimmering jewels and fairy tale palaces of the maharajas, the danger and peril of snakes, leeches, cockroaches and monsoon rains to the remote mountain and jungle outposts some colonials lived in - de Courcy does make you feel that you are in nineteenth century India with the British.
Sadly, the scatter-gun way the stories are told is confusing and frustrating - there is no continuity. Each chapter contains many different stories of young women and families who came to India looking for a husband - sometimes these are a few sentences, sometimes many pages. But the chronology is broken as some stories are started in one chapter and continued much later in the book. This is too confusing and disjointed.
On the face of it, the division of the chapters seems a sensible idea. Chapter titles include "The Voyage Out", "Love At Sea", "Brits and Indians" and "The Climate", but although the titles and stories give the reader a flavour of each topic, there is not much continuity in each chapter as it jumps from women to women, story to story.
A better idea might have been to divide the chapters according to the stories of the husband-hunting women, describing their life stories chronologically from start to finish.
A much better book on a similar topic is William Dalrymple's "White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in 18th-century India" which covers one story from start to finish. A quick synopsis of this memorable book is: "James Achilles Kirkpatrick was the British Resident at the court of Hyderabad when he met Khair un-Nissa – ‘Most Excellent among Women’ – the great-niece of the Prime Minister of Hyderabad. He fell in love with her and overcame many obstacles to marry her, converting to Islam and, according to Indian sources, becoming a double-agent working against the East India Company."