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Customer Review

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not what the plot deserves, 21 Nov. 2004
This review is from: A Singular Hostage (Paperback)
I bought this novel based on what other readers had said of it and, mainly, on the originality of the plot. I hoped I would find a story that would transport me to the India of the Raj, as FAR PAVILLIONS does. Alas, this was not so. The characters of this book are not round, especially so the main character Mariana. The author fails to flesh her out as a victorian young lady when she insists time and again, that her main trait, that which makes her a misfit in British society but should endear us to her, is that she is too warm-hearted and has an unfashionable, too-broad smile.
As proof of that, the author throws in some scenes in which we witness how Mariana feels for everybody, regardless of their social standing, to the point of actually hugging servants or village boys when she feels they are fellow-sufferers. It is not that a Victorian lady would not feel empathy for the pople "below her" in society, it is that she would certainly have shown it in other ways, for instance, with kind words.
But then, the author also tells us trait number two in Mariana's character: that she is too impulsive, which must account for the necessity of physical contact, I guess. It is not surprising, then, that her mother and aunt are worried about Mariana's prospects of marriage (although this does not extend to worrying about teaching her to be a real lady,with all the proper accopmplishements: she does not seem to draw, sew or study French, she does not seem to have a governess either; in fact, we are told that her days are spent rambling in the garden and being "warm-hearted" towards everybody that comes near her.). They decide that she will have a better chance of finding a good husband in India, where they are always short of marriageable ladies.
And thus we find the main character in India. Of course, she absolutely falls in love with India instantly; and I mean instantly: she doesn't learn to love it after some time of getting used to it. No culture shock for unwordly Mariana. However, the author utterly fails to transmit the feeling of this instant love or to conjure up the emotions of exotic adventure or grand occasion that such a happening as the journey of the governor and his two sisters should give us, although she gives us an account of what travelling by caravan was (with all the proper names of things and persons involved). This account does not sound alive to me.
I find hard to belive, also, the fact that Mariana, who has spent her childhood rambling in the garden and being warm-hearted (without a school, a governness, or any strict discipline at all at home, it seems), can muster the self-discipline necessary to study and learn such a language as Urdu in ...3 months!!! a feat that surely not even the great Sir Richard Burton could equal and that allows her to be employed as lady-translator for the governor's sisters.
But what I find especially hard to believe in this novel is the romance in it and the ineraction of the two main characters. Would such a man as Hassan fall deeply in love with a 19-year-old girl? would such a girl really be capable of living through the situations that she finds herself involved in, of taking those decissions? Has the life she has led until now prepared her for all this? Why does world-wise, intelligent Hassan fall in love with her? What does she find in her? I can't believe all this.
Because of this failure in conjuring atmosphere or creating round characters the story, in spite of the atractive plot, is totally unbelievable and a great deception.
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Location: Urbs et orbis

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