Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Miss Timmins' School for Girls by Nayana Currimbhoy

The book's synopsis from the publisher's website:

Miss Timmins' School for Girls: A Novel A murder at a British boarding school in the hills of western India launches a young teacher on the journey of a lifetime.
In 1974, three weeks before her twenty-first birthday, Charulata Apte arrives at Miss Timmins' School for Girls in Panchgani. Shy, sheltered, and running from a scandal that disgraced her Brahmin family, Charu finds herself teaching Shakespeare to rich Indian girls in a boarding school still run like an outpost of the British Empire. In this small, foreign universe, Charu is drawn to the charismatic teacher Moira Prince, who introduces her to pot-smoking hippies, rock ‘n' roll, and freedoms she never knew existed.
Then one monsoon night, a body is found at the bottom of a cliff, and the ordered worlds of school and town are thrown into chaos. When Charu is implicated in the murder—a case three intrepid schoolgirls take it upon themselves to solve—Charu's real education begins. A love story and a murder mystery, Miss Timmins' School for Girls is, ultimately, a coming-of-age tale set against the turbulence of the 1970s as it played out in one small corner of India.
This book reminded me why I enjoy Indian fiction so much. It has a special kind of atmosphere that I rarely find in other novels and that pulled me in to the world of Charu and the world of this little boarding school that seemed to be like no other. Miss Timmins School for Girls is complex as it deals with multitude of issues and offers a reader wonderful characters. Charu, the young girl whose life and whose vision of the world changes within one school year, is just such an endearing person that I'd love to have her for a friend in real life. She learns a lot about herself and a lot is thrown at her but in the end Charu does take it in stride and recognizes what makes a girl into a woman.

Charu's love affair with Moira Prince is probably the best element of the whole novel for me. Being a lesbian relationship in a school for girl in the '70's India, it was bound to be secretive and hidden from everyone. Nonetheless, this love was explosive, passionate and beautiful. I appreciated this union of two women more than I do a lot of female/male relationships in other stories.

One surprising element was that Miss Timmins School for Girls is an Indian version of a Gothic tale. There isn't a character there that doesn't have something  in their life hidden from the light of day and when the dead body comes into play, quite a few of the people involved could be potential killers. And even though the story's strength is not in the surprising ending to the possible crime, the secrets that abound within the walls of the school and the residents of the town give the book an extra entertaining quality.

Ms. Currimbhoy did a great job with her first novel and I think that it will appeal to a large audience, not necessarily only to the fans of Indian writing or the fans of mysteries. There is a lot there to be enjoyed, including superb characterization, and I hope that many readers will choose Miss Timmins School for Girls as their indulgence for the long summer days.

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Special thanks to the publisher, Harper Collins and Net Galley for providing me with a digital copy of the novel.

Miss Timmins' School for Girls by Nayana Currimbhoy is now available for purchase in all major bookstores and on Amazon.