Title: The Girl in the Painting
Author: Renita D’Silva
Length: 495 pages
Renita D’Silva is the author of many books, but this is the first time I’ve read one. The story sounded so intriguing, I couldn’t wait to get started.
India, 1926: English Margaret arrives with her new husband Suraj at his family home, set amidst beautiful rolling hills, the air filled with with the soft scent of spices and hibiscus flowers. Margaret is unwelcome, homesick and lonely, but her maid Archana, a young woman from an impoverished family, reminds her of her long-lost sister, a tiny glimpse of home in a faraway place. As Margaret and Archana spend more time together, an unexpected friendship blooms. But in British India the divide between rich and poor, English and Indian, is wide, and the clash between Margaret’s modern views and the weight of tradition on Archana will lead to devastating results…
England,2000: When Emma’s grandmother gives her a mysterious painting, and asks her to take a message of forgiveness to an old friend in India, Emma is relieved to have some time and space to make a decision about her future. But as she fulfils her grandmothers wish, a secret kept for over seventy years is finally revealed – the story of a day spent painting by a stream full of water lilies, where a betrayal tore three lives apart forever…
‘Just like once before when she set aside her desire to study, go to college, in order to get married, do what was expected of her, once again she is felled by duty. That time she gave up her dreams, now she is giving up her life.’
Oh boy, this book did not disappoint. The story was so well thought out, intricate and full bodied. At the end of the first chapter, one of the characters, asks a question that leaves with a cliffhanger, and you want to know the answer to this question. That was me hooked right till the end.
From this question, it then goes into the back story of the two main characters, Margaret and Archana, where we read about their early years and the heartbreaking trials they both go through. You get such a sense of each character, and your heart breaks for both of them.
Like I said, it goes into their back story so the two main characters don’t even meet until about halfway through the book. But it doesn’t make the story slow, or the book feel long. It just engrosses you, so you go on the journey with them.
The descriptions, in this book are like no other. If this book doesn’t make you want to go to India, I don’t know what will? It’s described so beautifully, in such luscious detail. I think this is why the story never feels long, because you become so involved in the story and surroundings. Also, learning about the Indian traditions was absolutely fascinating. I had no idea, things like Sati actually happened. You know I love it when a book teaches me something.
‘Leaves have started to turn, a riot of deep yellow, golden russet, blood orange. Blackberries ripen in the bushes beside the road, bees and flies drunk on them. The air is perfumed with Hawthorn, honeysuckle and wild garlic. Crab apples ferment in the sunshine.’
What really makes the book excellent, is characters, their relationships and how we relate to them. The relationship between Margaret and Suraj, is sweet and romantic. Archana and her family’s relationship is a complex, yet deep love, marred by traditions. Margaret and her sister, with their heartbreak bring them together. Archana and Pramila, a friend she desperately needed. Side note, grab your tissues for this friendship. But the relationship between Margaret and Archana is so special, it’s the heart of this book. They’re connection just comes off the page, you can feel it. So when the friendship becomes complicated your so involved and your desperate for things to work out. This is all a testament to the great writing and storytelling.
Even though Archana is in a very specific situation, I still found myself relating to her. I had such empathy, I think everyone feels like she has felt, not being in control of her own life. I had such sympathy for these characters because the writing was just that good. The details, descriptions, heartbreak.
I can’t recommend this book enough. Renita is such a talented writer, and a great storyteller. Be prepared to become totally immersed in the culture, country, customs and characters in this book. This may be first book I’ve read of hers, but it won’t be the last. Now excuse me, I’m off to buy some more.
This book was given to from Netgalley and Bookouture, in return for a honest review. This book comes out April 11th and you can preorder now.
Until the next review