Thursday, December 30, 2010

J.G.'s Review - Staying On

It's interesting that no one here seems very keen to read this particular winner, and I must say the following lukewarm reaction isn't likely to inspire anyone to grab a bookmark and dash to their shelves.

That said, this novel isn't particularly bad, either. I think part of the difficulty lies in the author's challenge of reconciling the various post-colonial perspectives of a cranky, aged British military hold-over, his long-suffering, intermittently perceptive wife, their native household help, and their native landlords and neighbors. It's a tall order, resulting in a mixed tone that isn't always successful.

The British couple have "stayed on" for 25 years after India's independence and have become the last of their colonial kind, awash in a world that has changed around them while they themselves have hardly changed at all, except to grow older. Colonel "Tusker" Smalley is cranky and ridiculous, his wife Lucy is alternately pitiful and insightful, the native staff is tolerant and knowing, and the native husband-and-wife landlords provide broadly drawn comic relief.

Although this sounds like quite the set-up, the novel itself is curiously bland. The writing is adequate, some of the characters are quite well-drawn, there is plenty of humor, and the story takes a surprisingly moving turn at the end. All told, however, this is not one of the more memorable winners. I suppose every prize is bound to have a slow year now and again.

For more on this novel, check out my other review at Hotchpot Cafe.


  1. I read this one before I began blogging, so I never wrote a review. But my recollection is similar to yours: a bit bland. Staying On was supposed to be a follow-up to The Raj Quartet, a 4-book series which is far superior (and the BBC dramatization, titled The Jewel in the Crown, is superb).

  2. At first I thought it was bland, but it's not fair to judge the book without reading the Raj Quartet. I'm almost done the fourth book, and I have to say, the entire oeuvre is a MASTERPIECE. I concluded that The Raj Quartet (the first three) were the best books I read all year!