Tuesday, 12 May 2009

The Bloodstone Papers by Glen Duncan

The Bloodstone papers is a difficult book to review. Not because I didn't enjoy it, but because I'm not sure what I want to say about it. However, having said that, it wasn't one of my favourite reads, although it was enjoyable enough.

Set in both India and the UK it is a story of an Anglo-Indian family and their experiences. Owen is a British born Anglo-Indian living in London, scraping a living teaching English three days a week, whilst trying to write a novel based on the history of his family in India. And as a sideline he also writes erotic novels under the pen-name Millicent Nash. The narrative is told in alternating chapters, some being told as a history of his father, Ross's early life in India, which Owen intends to use for his book, and others set in Owen's present, concerning his life and his search for Skinner, a man who threads his way through Ross's life in India, and who Owen is trying to locate for his father.

Although we learn about Ross's life from early childhood, the main aspects of his life focused on are his relationship with Kate, Owen's mother, and his prowess as a boxer. He is spotted as having a talent for boxing from at school, and this continues throughout his early career in the Indian Air Force, and then on the railways. When everything goes wrong in India for Anglo-Indians, he sees qualifying for the Olympics as his way out of India. However, during the 1947 riots in India, he gets injured and then his attempts to get away from India with his family are thwarted for numerous reasons, with the mysterious Skinner finally being unmasked for what he is.

Owen's chapters are narrated in the first person and tell the story of his life, and the attempts he makes to locate this Skinner man that his father has been desperate to find since he finally made it out of England. Owen himself though I didn't find a particularly likable or convincing character. His story is concerned with love too, although unrequited. He spends most of the novel pining for his ex-girlfriend, who he hasn't seen for years. At the start of the novel, all we know is that they are now apart and that they knew each other as children, and then started a relationship whilst at university. As the story progresses we learn about the relationship, and who she actually is, but it doesn't, to my mind, explain why someone would pine about one person for so long! And when the climax to this particular thread occurs, it is so unrealistic it almost made me laugh. and I don't think it was supposed to!

The Indian parts of the story are very realistic though. I found myself getting lost in that world. I wasn't aware that Anglo-Indians were actually considered to be a separate group of people, and there is a lot of focus on them not really fitting in anywhere. They enjoy a privileged status in India, but when the British start to make mumblings of leaving, they realise they will be neither here nor their in India, so many leave for England, but find that nothing is much better there. This is played out in Owen's narrative where he discusses his and Scarlet's treatment at school.

There is a lot running through this story. Love, loss, family loyalty, feelings of alienation, and mystery. Relationships and events are revealed in a chronological fashion through Ross's Narrative of events in India, but in Owen's chapters, he sometimes refers to events that we yet don't know about, so the mystery of how it is all going to come together kept me reading. And of course, the mystery of Skinner, who he is, and what part he actually played in Ross's eventual fate.

No comments: