Miss Timmins' School for Girls by Nayana Currimbhoy
Author: Nayana Currimbhoy
Genre: Fiction (India / Historical - 1970s / Girls School / Murder Mystery / Post-Colonial)
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper Paperbacks (6/21/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Rating: Liked immensely!
Did I finish?: Yes -- I couldn't stop thinking about this book.
One-sentence summary: A young teacher's life is changed by love (and sex), the murder of a colleague, and family drama in 1970s India.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction, South Asian
Do I like the cover?: Yes. It references a rather iconic moment from the story.
I'm reminded of...: Charlotte Greig, Zoë Heller
First line: Today Charu came back to me, suddenly.
Did... I greatly appreciate the glossary in the back?: YES! It made my wiki-ing a lot less!
Did... I stay up multiple nights because I couldn't stop reading?: YES! At 491 pages, this was not one of my three-hour reads, but it was so good I didn't want to go to bed.
Do... I love the font used in the novel for the chapter initials and page numbers?: YES!
Sadly, this book didn't have that page at the end that explains the history of the fonts used so I've no idea what it is. But it's pretty!
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow for sure! I think this would make a smashing book club novel as there are so many fascinating elements that beg discussion.
Why did I get this book?: The title!
Review: Even though there is a murder mystery that is central to the novel, I actually found Miss Timmins' School for Girls to be an engrossing kind of coming of age story, following 20-year old Charulata Apte as she struggles to discover the woman she is, be it a bellbottom-wearing hippie in Bombay or simply a graceful beauty like her mother. Charu occupies that awkward place where one feels (and should be) grown up and yet, feels (and often behaves) childishly. As she leaves her parents for her first job as a teacher at a boarding school, her life turns especially tumultuous and confusing when a white teacher is murdered and she's involved.
Currimbhoy creates an evocative setting in the British all-girls school in rural Panchgani, especially the fishbowl living between students and teachers. Secrets and scandals -- large or small -- constantly threaten to be exposed, and the confusing mix of hormones, isolation, and differing social classes create an explosive brew. Reading, I was reminded very much of other British school fiction from The History Boys to Notes on a Scandal: What Was She Thinking? to the St. Trinian's series.
In fact, literature and popular culture play a huge role in this novel, from the iconic music of the late '60s and early '70s as the soundtrack for Charu's social life to books by Nabokov (shocking and daring), Enid Blyton (the aspiration of the school), or William Golding (what the schoolgirls are really like). As I measure my own life in music and books, this really struck a chord with me and added a sense of realism to the story and gave me a place to empathize with Charu.
I found I liked all the characters and found their stories compelling; the novel is long (and perhaps a little too long at moments) but I enjoyed the way the various story lines played out and were resolved, and I had no problem keeping everyone straight. From the trio of mischievous students who set out to solve the mystery to Charu's extended family (and the drama that came with them), there was a feast of tensions that gave Charu and this novel the oomph that made it more than murder mystery. I recommend this book for a long trip, when you've got many nights available to curl up and read (and don't mind waiting until the very end for the mystery to be solved!).
*** *** ***
Giveaway! I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Miss Timmins' School for Girls to one lucky reader! To enter, just leave a comment with an email address. Open to US/CA readers, ends 7/29. For another entry, be sure to stop by and comment on my interview with Nayana Currimbhoy!