Book Review: Staying On by Paul Scott #1977club


Staying OnAbout the Book

In this sequel to The Raj Quartet, Colonel Tusker and Lucy Smalley cling to their bungalow in the hills of Pankot after Indian independence deprives them of their colonial status. Lucy, fed up with accommodating her husband, tries to assert her own independence.

In scenes both poignant and hilarious, she and Tusker act out class tensions among the British of the Raj and eloquently give voice to the loneliness, rage, and stubborn affection in their marriage.

Format: Paperback (pp.)                   Publisher: Granada
Published: 1978 [1977]                      Genre: Literary Fiction

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My Review

Staying On is my book for the #1977Club organised by those great book bloggers, Stuck in a Book and Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings.  This was a re-read for me of a book I read quite a few years ago now because it is a sequel to Paul Scott’s The Raj Quartet series of novels that I really loved when I read them.    The Raj Quartet was televised as The Jewel in the Crown in 1984, introducing a number of actors who subsequently went on to great things, such as Tim Piggott-Smith, Geraldine James and Art Malik.  Staying On was also adapted for television in 1980, starring the wonderful Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson.

Goodreads tells me I gave Staying On three stars when I read it for the first time and I have to say my feeling towards it this time is pretty similar.  This is despite the fact that it was awarded the Booker Prize (as it was known at the time) in 1978 by a panel of judges chaired by Philip Larkin, no less.

The most successful character for me was Lucy Smalley who felt the most fully-rounded creation and engaged my sympathy more than the other characters.  It helps, no doubt, that the reader is party to more of Lucy’s thoughts and feelings than of the other characters.   In contrast, Tusker remains rather a remote, tragic figure.

Tusker’s declining health and concerns about her financial position should the worst happen prompt Lucy to reminisce about her girlhood, her first meetings with Tusker, their courtship, eventual marriage and move to India.  She recalls movingly her struggles to adjust to the strict social hierarchy of the British in India, and the petty rules and humiliations meted out to her by other wives.

Lucy is an engaging character because it’s clear she thinks of others whereas Tusker seems only to think of himself.  As Lucy observes, ‘He hears.  He listens.  But doesn’t let on.  And he rejects and obfuscates.  He rejects anything he hears which it doesn’t suit him to hear.’   I found it sad that Lucy and Tusker seemed to have stopped being able to communicate, to understand each other and appreciate their respective needs.  It’s not until very late in the book that we get an insight into Tusker’s feelings for Lucy, feelings he is sadly unable to express directly to her.  Her reaction to what she learns is very moving.

I felt that many of the secondary characters – like the awful Mrs. Bhoolabhoy – bordered on caricature.  However, most problematic for me was the handling of racial difference.  For instance, in the following quotation – and I apologise in advance if any of the terms cause offence – Lucy recalls that, ‘one of the earliest lessons she had learned in India was of the need to steer clear, socially, of people of mixed blood and she had quickly been taught how to detect the taint, the touch of the tar-brush in those white enough to be emboldened to pass themselves off as pukka-born.’   I appreciate that what is being depicted were different times (although the book is only set in 1972) but that word ‘taint’ brought me up short when I read it.

I also felt uncomfortable about what seemed like stereotyping of the different races, especially as I didn’t get a clear sense that I was being encouraged by the author to challenge such generalisations.  Lucy recalls, ‘She’d been told that the Eurasians (Anglo-Indians as they were then called) were very loyal to the British; that without them there would have been no reliable middle-class of clerks and subordinate officials. [….] they formed an effective and in-depth defence against the strange native tendency to bribery and corruption which, coupled with that other native tendency to indolence, could have made the Indian empire even more difficult to run than it already was.’

What Staying On does well is evoke the end of an era.  Tusker and Lucy represent the last remnants of a different kind of society, social order and way of life.  As Lucy confides in a letter to a friend, they are now literally the last of the British permanent residents ‘on station’ in Pankot.   Their situation has become precarious both financially and practically as plans for development of Smith’s Hotel threaten The Lodge which is their home.    As Tusker observes, “I still think we were right to stay on, though I don’t think of it any longer as staying on, but just as hanging on”.

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In three words: Moving, tender, elegiac

Try something similar…The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott

Paul ScottAbout the Author

Paul Scott was born in London in 1920. He served in the army from 1940 to 1946, mainly in India and Malaya. He is the author of thirteen distinguished novels including his famous The Raj Quartet. In 1977, Staying On won the Booker Prize. Paul Scott died in 1978.



10 Ways To Support Your Local Literary Festival

10 Ways To Support Your Local Literary Festival

First of all – a confession.  Before I started this book blog at the back end of 2016 and, despite having lived not far away for over twenty years, 2017 was the first year I became aware that there was such a thing as Henley Literary Festival.    I know, call myself a book lover?  Luckily, I did learn of it in time to attend a couple of events, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed.   You can read my reviews of Rachel Joyce talking about her book The Music Shop here and Anne O’Brien, author of The Shadow Queen, and Rory Clements, author of Corpus, talking about historical fiction here.

HenleyLiteraryFestivalI plan to attend a lot more events during this year’s Henley Literary Festival which runs from 29th September to 7th October 2018.  Already there have been some exciting announcements about authors who will be appearing, including Sir Michael Morpurgo, Justin Myers, GQ columnist and author of The Last Romeo, and Sharlene Teo, author of Ponti.

To make up for my oversight, I thought I’d help others to do what I’ve failed to do over the years by suggesting ten ways you can support your local Literary Festival.

  1. Follow the Festival on social media and subscribe to the Festival newsletter, if they have one.
  2. Share news about the Festival on your own social media and tell your friends about it.
  3. If your local Literary Festival runs such a scheme, become a Friend of the Festival, as I have for Henley Literary Festival. It may give you access to priority booking, special events or discounted tickets.
  4. If time and other commitments allow, consider becoming a volunteer at the Festival.
  5. A rather obvious one, this – attend as many Festival events as time and pocket will allow!
  6. Review events you attend on your blog and share them on social media.
  7. Buy a book by one or more of the authors appearing at the Festival. Get your book signed if you get the opportunity!
  8. Share reviews of books by the visiting authors on your blog.
  9. Support Festival partners and sponsors. For example, The Bell Bookshop is the bookselling partner of the Henley Literary Festival.  Hmm, I wonder how I can support them…?
  10. If you’re a blogger, create a blog page devoted to the Festival where you can add links to event reviews, book reviews, etc. (I’ll be doing this soon.)

Of course, supporting the town or city where your Literary Festival takes place can be just as valuable.   It’s a good excuse to search out bookshops, as I did when I went to Henley, and find yourself a new favourite coffee shop, pub or restaurant for refueling stops between events.

Literary festivals are brilliant cultural events, bringing together authors and book lovers, introducing new readers to the world of books and giving a boost to local communities. Be sure to support yours!


Blog Tour/Guest Post: Tapestry of War by Jane MacKenzie

I’m delighted to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for Jane MacKenzie’s wonderful historical novel, Tapestry of War.  Described as a perfect read for fans of Victoria Hislop and Santa Montefiore – and don’t those two authors know how to bring the past thrillingly to life? – Tapestry of War is inspired by the author’s own family history.  During World War 2, Jane’s father-in-law disguised himself to rescue Allied servicemen in the Greek islands, and met his future wife in Alexandria.

I have a fascinating guest post from Jane in which she shares her thoughts on writing a book set in a place you’re familiar with, as indeed she is with the Scottish Highlands.

The tour schedule at the bottom of this post shows the other great book bloggers taking part in the tour where you will find reviews, interviews and book extracts.

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tapestry of warAbout the Book

Amidst the horrors of the Second World War, love and friendship bring two strangers together across conflict-ravaged continents.

In Alexandria, Fran finds her life turned upside down as Rommel’s forces advance on the idyllic shores of Egypt. In place of the luxury and stability that she is used to, she finds herself having to deal with loss, heartache and political uncertainty.

Meanwhile, on the Firth of Clyde, Catriona works day in, day out nursing injured servicemen. As the war rages on, the two women’s lives become entwined – bringing love and friendship to both.

Format: ebook, Paperback (320 pp.) Publisher: Allison and Busby
Published: 19th April 2018                  Genre: Historical Fiction

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Guest Post: ‘Setting Books Somewhere You’re Familiar With’ by Jane MacKenzie, author of Tapestry of War

It can be funny writing about a place you know from the outside in, that you feel and understand intuitively. It is in a way a gift, since you don’t have to fret over research and getting your facts right. But it brings its own difficulties too.

Tapestry of War is set in Egypt and in Scotland, and of course Scotland is my home. I live in the Highlands, and the whole way of life I describe in the book is one I am immersed in, bathed in, raised my children in. But then, when you come to write that down, you realise you have to take yourself out of it a little in order to find the words, and to describe what is so familiar.

It helps that it is so beautiful, and that we live so close to the forces of nature. You only have to stop and remember a wild night in December, the bitter winds of January, or a long, incredibly peaceful evening in summer. And once you have really embedded yourself in that act of remembrance then you can conjure up the little details, the birds that you see, the smells, how the hills look, the changing colours of the sea, and the description of them flows.

It helped that I was setting the book in the 1940s, during World War Two, because I’m a spectator of that era. But even then, the true Highland culture and social values haven’t changed that much. There are still women just like Aunt Sheila keeping their families together, baking, mending, visiting their neighbours, running village events. It’s a traditional place, is rural Scotland. In my own village of Plockton it can take half an hour to walk to our little shop, because you have to stop and talk to so many people on the way, check on someone who has been unwell, drop some soup into an elderly relative. I really wanted to evoke that, and I hope I’ve succeeded in passing on some of my love for my home country.

In writing about Egypt it was very different. I know Egypt, and have visited Alexandria, but it has changed so definitively since the war years that I relied much more on historical accounts, old pictures, some wonderful memoirs from the time. I do know what the elderly men look like as they sit over their little burners making tea in the streets, and I know how the heat smells, and how the sun rises over Alexandria harbour. But I can be freer in my descriptions of Egypt. I can imagine it and make it my own with much greater abandon.

Isn’t it strange that your own home, the place you live and breathe, should often be harder to write about? It is lovely, though, when your own people read your work and say ‘Yes, that’s it, you’ve captured it. That’s who we are.’               © Jane MacKenzie

Jane MacKenzieAbout the Author

Jane MacKenzie has spent much of her adult life travelling the world, teaching English and French everywhere from the Gambia to Papua New Guinea to Bahrain, and recently working for two years at CERN in Geneva. She now splits her time between her self-built house in Collioure, France, and the Highlands of Scotland, where she has made her family home. She is the author of the best-selling Daughters of Catalonia.

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Tapestry of War Tour Schedule


Blog Tour/Review: Suitors and Sabotage by Cindy Anstey


I’m delighted to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for Suitors and Sabotage by Cindy Anstey.  I really enjoyed Cindy’s previous book, Duels & Deception, when I read it a while back.  And Suitors and Sabotage is more of the same – a lovely, light read with more than a few nods to that illustrious novelist, Jane Austen.  You can read my review of Suitors and Sabotage below.

WinIf you’re a resident of the US or Canada, there’s a giveaway with a chance to win a paperback copy of Suitors and Sabotage.  To enter, click here.  Entries must be received by 26th April, so don’t hang about!

Check out the tour schedule here for links to reviews by other great book bloggers, guest posts by Cindy, extracts and interviews with Cindy.

Suitors and SabotageAbout the Book

Two young people must hide their true feelings for each other while figuring out who means them harm in this cheeky Regency romance from the author of Love, Lies and Spies and Duels & Deception.

Shy aspiring artist Imogene Chively has just had a successful Season in London, complete with a suitor of her father’s approval. Imogene is ambivalent about the young gentleman until he comes to visit her at the Chively estate with his younger brother in tow. When her interest is piqued, however, it is for the wrong brother.

Charming Ben Steeple has a secret: despite being an architectural apprentice, he has no drawing aptitude. When Imogene offers to teach him, Ben is soon smitten by the young lady he considers his brother’s intended.

But hiding their true feelings becomes the least of their problems when, after a series of “accidents,” it becomes apparent that someone means Ben harm. And as their affection for each other grows—despite their efforts to remain just friends – so does the danger…

Format: ebook (331 pp.)           Publisher: Swoon Reads
Published: 17th April 2018       Genre: Historical Fiction, Historical Romance, YA

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My Review

‘In which a young lady finds her attention is drawn to her charming but rather serious suitor’s hotter younger brother.

Apologies to Cindy Anstey for my rather poor attempt to emulate her humorous chapter headings that playfully evoke the era of Jane Austen.  Some of my favourites include:

‘In which hands and fluff are subjects of a deep discussion.’
‘In which the words “dreadful” and “secret” are bandied about.’
‘In which a question about the question is questioned.’

Imogene (with that curious ‘e’ on the end) finds herself in a quandary.  She admires her suitor, the kind, charming, bookish Ernest, who lives up to his name in being serious and (whisper) at times perhaps a little dull.  As she confides to her best friend, Emily, ‘I never feel my heart race when our eyes meet.’  However, she knows her mother and father would strongly approve if she was to accept an offer of marriage from Ernest.

But….Imogene finds herself becoming more and more attracted to Ernest’s younger brother, Ben – a lively character, very easy on the eye and someone who shares Imogene’s interest in architecture and art, even if he’s no match for her on the sketching front.  Fortunately, Ben’s need to improve his drawing skills in order to progress in his architecture apprenticeship provides the pretext for him and Imogene to spend time together for some one-to-one tuition.

Imogene forces herself to fight against the attraction, especially once it appears it may test the bonds of friendship. ‘Ernest had so many stellar qualities that Imogene had made a list of them…a list she repeated every time her traitorous thoughts veered toward Ben.’ Keep repeating that list, Imogen!

Events take a darker turn when what start out as mischievous pranks progress to sabotage and acts that may endanger life or limb.  Uncovering the culprit provides a gentle secondary story line to the brotherly rivalry for Imogene’s affections.

I really enjoyed Cindy Anstey’s previous novel, Duels & Deception, and in this book again she provides insights into the social proprieties of the time.  For example, the contrast between ‘town manners’ and ‘country manners’, with the latter involving relatively more informality, much earlier hours of rising (except for those ladies who keep ‘town hours’ and rise late) and outdoor pursuits such as walks and picnics.  I was also glad to see a welcome return for the phrase ‘doing it up brown’.

Suitors and Sabotage was a lovely light read with some nice little touches of humour.  For example, I liked that the author has Emily remark, ’The wonderful aspect of books is that they wait for you…and are not in the least insulted if you deviated for a bit.’  How true!  Also, I loved the little in-joke as Emily comments, ‘I’m not at ease with the idea that someone under this roof has some sort of sinister intent.  That is something that happens only in novels, not in reality.’   

I received an advance reader copy courtesy of NetGalley, publishers Swoon Reads and Giselle at Xpresso Book Tours in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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In three words: Light, charming, lively

Try something similar…Duels & Deception by Cindy Anstey (click here to read my review)

CindyAbout the Author

Whenever she is not sitting at the computer, throwing a ball in the backyard, gardening or reading, Cindy can be found – actually, not found – adventuring around the world with her hubby. She has lived on three continents, had a monkey in her yard and a scorpion under her sink, dwelt among castles and canals, enjoyed the jazz of Beale St and attempted to speak French.  Cindy loves history, mystery and… a chocolate Labrador called Chester.

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Extract: In The Cage Where Your Saviours Hide by Malcolm Mackay

Mackay_In the Cage

In The Cage Where Your Saviours Hide by Malcolm McKay has been described as ‘a remarkable novel of crime and corruption…set in a brooding, rain-swept Scottish city burdened by a history that is compellingly different from the one we think we know.’

Intrigued?  Good because I have an extract from the book for you below.

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In the Cage where Your Saviours HideAbout the Book

The independent kingdom of Scotland flourished until the beginning of the last century. Its great trading port of Challaid, in the north west of the country, sent ships around the world and its merchants and bankers grew rich on their empire in Central America.

But Scotland is not what it was, and the docks of Challaid are almost silent. The huge infrastructure projects collapsed, like the dangerous railway tunnels under the city. And above ground the networks of power and corruption are all that survive of Challaid’s glorious past.

Darian Ross is a young private investigator whose father, an ex cop, is in prison for murder. He takes on a case brought to him by a charismatic woman, Maeve Campbell. Her partner has been stabbed; the police are not very curious about the death of a man who laundered money for the city’s criminals. Ross is drawn by his innate sense of justice and his fascination with Campbell into a world in which no-one can be trusted.

Praise for Malcolm Mackay and In The Cage Where Your Saviours Hide

‘Fascinating speculative fiction.’ The Bookseller
‘Mackay’s writing is clean and spare, with flashes of dark humour.’ The Herald
‘A real revelation, a real find for me.’ Kate Mosse
‘A really unique voice.’ Mark Billingham

Format: ebook, hardcover (276 pp.) Publisher: Apollo
Published: 5th April 2018                    Genre: Crime

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Extract from In The Cage Where Your Saviours Hide by Malcolm Mackay

Darian Ross might have been the only person who enjoyed the commute to work in Challaid, or at least admitted it. A short walk down to the crowded Bank Station, making his way through the bustle of bleary-eyed miserablists at half-eight. Onto the train and east through the tunnel, off at the next stop, which was Glendan Station. That was the closest stop to the tunnel where all those people were killed digging it, so they claimed they would name the station in honour of those lost. Their choice? The title of the company the dead men worked for, that had sent them to excavate in treacherous conditions with no thought for their safety. Apparently the people of influence who picked the name couldn’t understand why none of the families accepted their invitations to the opening. Anyway, that was also the closest stop to Darian’s work, and it was a twelve-minute walk through the morning to Cage Street. On a nice day, admittedly rare, the stroll through busy streets could be pleasant.

Here we’ll talk a little about what Darian did for a living. He was, in truth, a sort of private detective, but if you asked him about his job those would be the last two words that would fight their way through his lips. He worked for a man called Sholto Douglas, a former detective now running Douglas Independent Research. How Sholto had managed to last fifteen years as a detective was one of the great many mysteries he never solved, and he was relieved to get out of it. Now he was in a single-room office on the second floor of a building in need of repair on a narrow old street in the city centre, pretending his company limited itself to market research and credit checks.

When he started Darian asked Sholto about the fact he was a private detective dressed up as something else and nearly provoked an aneurysm. Sholto growled and said, ‘It is research, really, when you think about it. That’s what all of police work is, or detective work, or whatever you want to call it.’

Then the conversation would switch to who was to blame, and while Scotland hadn’t had a proper war with England since the Trade Wars of the eighteenth century, Sholto was all for kicking off another.

‘And the licences, and the restrictions, they’re all nonsense anyway, just there to stop you doing the work. They only did it because the English put the same stuff into law so they thought they had to copy it. Just copying another country because they couldn’t think of anything better to do with their time, that’s all it was. Bloody English. Bloody Scottish government. You look at the two laws; they’re almost identical except ours are harsher. Also, it’s Raven’s fault… Don’t get me started on Raven…’

Raven Investigators was a large firm of private detectives based in Edinburgh and with offices in our own fair city who were raking up more muck than a landscape gardener. Their respect for the law was considered inadequate, so the law was tightened hard and Raven Investigators shrank accordingly. Companies like Douglas Independent Research existed so that people who couldn’t afford the shiny corporate professionalism of Raven had someone to pester small-scale criminals for them, or that’s how Sholto liked to present it, anyway. So that was the not exactly noble world of half-truths and delusions that Darian walked into each morning, including this Saturday.

Malcolm MackayAbout the Author

Malcolm Mackay was born in Stornoway on Scotland’s Isle of Lewis. His Glasgow Trilogy has been nominated and shortlisted for several international prizes, including the Edgar Awards’ Best Paperback Original and the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger award. His second novel, How a Gunman Says Goodbye, won the Deanston Scottish Crime Book of the Year Award. Mackay still lives in Stornoway.

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