East of the Sun by Julia Gregson
Published: 2008 by Touchstone, a Division of Simon and Schuster
East of the Sun tells the story of three young women travelling from England to India in the late 1920s in search of new lives. For two of the women, Rose and Victoria (known as Tor, which seemed like an absurd nickname to me), this meant finding and marrying a good man; for their shipboard chaperone, Viva, it meant returning to the country of her childhood, uncovering family secrets, and making a fresh start as a writer.
I suppose Viva is meant to be the main character of the novel, as she takes on chaperoning Rose and Tor (as well as a disturbed schoolboy, Guy Glover) to India in order to pay her own passage to retrieve a trunk of her parents left with a family friend. However, Rose and Tor’s stories receive almost as much attention — Rose preparing for marriage to a British military man and Tor trying to line up her own betrothal in order to avoid returning to England — and it felt to me that their narratives overshadowed that of Viva’s. It’s also interesting to me that Guy Glover didn’t receive his own narrative; he appears throughout the novel, but he is never truly explained and remains a mysterious character.
There is a bit of everything in this book — romance, mystery, violence — and it does provide a sensual portrait of India in the 1920s and 1930s (my favorite aspect of the book) — but to me it doesn’t seem put together well, making it difficult to follow at times. If I hadn’t selected this book as one of my 2011 TBR Pile Challenge choices, I probably would not have finished it.