What’s it all about?:
From English winters to Indian summers. From the cold streets of modern Britain to the glamorous, turbulent and impassioned world of 1940’s Mumbai.
Each year, Sita makes a mysterious journey to the Mausoleum, the place of dark memories and warped beginnings. She goes to spy on Emily and Champa, the strange ‘guardians’ she once escaped, and on whom she had taken a daring revenge. This year proves to be fatefully different… This year, the terrible secrets of the past are starting to emerge; secrets that inexorably link the three women to each other, to the grey-eyed stranger Kala, and to an altogether different world – the glittering, violent and passionate world of 1940’s Mumbai.
Ravinder Randhawa’s women, caught in a desperate fight for survival, cross taboos and forbidden lines in this richly plotted novel, imbued with fascinating historical detail, and the beauties of place and period. Readers of modern and historical novels alike will enjoy Randhawa’s evocative portrait of the compelling relationship between Britain and India, which continues to enthrall and engage us.
What did I think?:
I first came upon Ravinder Randhawa’s writing when a blogger friend Faye, from A Daydreamer’s Thoughts (who is also a freelance PR) asked me if I would be interested in reading her book A Wicked Old Woman – check out my thoughts on the book HERE. Now one of Ravinder’s other titles, The Coral Strand has recently been released here in the UK by Troubador Publishing and I was delighted to receive a copy in the post so that I could compare and contrast the two. Many thanks to all involved! Like the author’s previous novel, A Coral Strand hosts a variety of different characters both of Indian and British descent or a mixture of the two and there are a couple of different story-lines going on that although I found it difficult to follow at the beginning, merged together quite satisfyingly by the end of the novel.
My favourite thing about this book however, was that it was set across two different timelines. The first is in England, more specifically London in the late nineties where we follow a young woman called Sita as she desperately tries to put the dizzying puzzle pieces of her family together so that they make some sort of sense and so she can finally have a sense of belonging which she has lacked for much of her early life. It’s all a bit vague to begin with, the details are hazy and to be honest, the reader feels as much in the dark as Sita herself as she wonders over her strange peculiarities of a family. She is raised in a household with two very strong female characters, Emily and Champa, (who she amusingly refers to as The Mutant Memsahib and Champa Dumpa) neither of which are her mother. I don’t really want to give too much away about the plot but Sita ends up running away from the house or “The Mausoleum,” as she refers to it with arm-loads of expensive jewellery which in fact, end up being the solution to the mystery of where she comes from.
The second timeline and the one I enjoyed most is set some years earlier in 1935-1942 Bombay, now Mumbai, India and it focuses on Emily Miller, a recently married woman who has moved to India with her husband Thomas who is based over there. After leaving a dead-end job in a factory and being promised the world or if not the world, at least a palace to live in with servants at her beck and call, Emily is ecstatic about her new higher standing but she seems to have been grossly misinformed about her lot in life as shortly after they are married, Thomas is killed in suspicious circumstances. With barely a penny to her name and a reputation to uphold, Emily must use every bit of fight in her to create a lavish lifestyle to which she has already become accustomed and believes she deserves.
However, in creating “The English Rose Garden,” with Champa (her husband’s favourite “lady of the night”) and her servant known only as Girl, she also invites some rather sinister creatures to share her bed (yes, quite literally!). When all hell breaks loose, Emily, Champa and Girl are forced to flee back to the safe waters of England where Emily is determined to maintain her extravagant, lady of leisure position, something which she finds quite difficult as she struggles with the behaviour and actions of Girl and in recent years, Sita and has to face up to a past that comes back to haunt her.
This all may seem a little complicated and it was confusing for me also at first, especially when a number of minor characters are added into the mixture that provide further secrets and hardship for all concerned in a convoluted plot that takes a while to get to grips with. I didn’t really have a favourite character as such – they were all flawed in some way but this did make them ultimately more interesting and I enjoyed the whole process of trying to figure them out. I did find myself feeling quite sorry for all of them in different ways, especially Girl and Sita who did not seem to have much choice in their own situations or control over their own fate until they both admirably begin enforcing their own independence and rebelling against the tyrannical Emily. If I had to compare it with A Wicked Old Woman, I would probably say I enjoyed this story more, it seemed to have characters that were more readable and in general, a plot that was more structured with a definitive ending. Personally, I feel that the author has really found her voice and a great style with this novel and I wouldn’t hesitate to read another one from her.
The Coral Strand was released on 28th February 2016 by Troubadour Publishing. Many thanks to them and to Faye Rogers for allowing me to read a copy in exchange for an honest review.
Would I recommend it?:
Star rating (out of 5):