Saturday, 23 May 2015

An Incredible Review for Adventures in India

 I, personally, can't help but adore a reader who will go to such lengths to write such a meticulous and well thought out review.
Thank you very, very much, Hrtls, I'm deeply gratified.

on May 22, 2015
'Adventures in India' reminds me why I became an avid fan of the books of C.W. Lovatt. Everything that I admired so much about his previous two books is in this one: the cast of unique, often eccentric, but believable and engaging characters; the clever dialogue that brings his characters to life in such an entertaining way; the humour he injects into characters and situations; the flashes of really brilliant descriptive writing and his skill at scene-setting; the well-developed plot, full of surprises and suspense; and the well-researched details of the actual historical background that gives his readers the opportunity to learn about little known events, in a little known place and time.

One of the things I appreciated the most about this book is that, although it is a work of historical fiction, it is historical fiction with an edge: in this case, the events of the actual historical background are much stranger than fiction, the 'hard facts' more bizarre than make-believe. Many times, I had to remind myself what the author, who has extensively researched the incredible incidents of the ill-fated British diplomatic mission to Bhutan in 1863, stated in his preface: 'many of the events actually took place exactly as described.' C.W. Lovatt manages to meld all the unbelievable real people and events, and the more credible fictional characters and events, into an absolutely amazing and gripping story!

There is so much I could say about 'Adventures in India', but due to space considerations, I will focus on three aspects of the book (and of C.W. Lovatt's work in general) that really stand out for me.

First, there is the way he draws his hero. Charlie Smithers is my favourite kind of hero: as one of Lord Elgin's 'Specials' ('a man of proven worth over rough country'), he has all the attributes any true hero must possess: his courage is absolute, as is his sense of what is right, and neither ever needs to be considered, regardless of obstacles or danger, before he takes the action he deems necessary. He is clever, steadfast, loyal, fair minded and compassionate, a man whose religion is his duty to his master, the Empire, and his family name. To top it off, he possesses enough humility and humour to keep him free him from vanity and selfishness. In short, while Charlie Smithers is not perfect (he is subject to weaknesses of the flesh), his faults only serve to make him more human and more real, and as C.W. Lovatt has written him, he is very real!

The second thing I love about C.W. Lovatt's writing is the way he injects humour into the characters and situations in the story: some of it is gently ironic, and sometimes it is laugh-out-loud funny.

I love the hilariously memorable scene in which Charlie's master, Lord Brampton, drinks a large quantity of marvelous Indian tea - in which the main ingredient is cannabis - of which both men are totally unaware. This occurs immediately before Lord Brampton has a very important meeting with the Viceroy of All India and other senior government and military officials. Both the journey to Government House, when they are caught in a downpour, (although Lord Brampton is barely aware of it - 'his mouth sagged open, a string of drool mingled with the rain',) and his later appearance at the formal meeting in a dressing gown, his mind still meandering, are very funny.

Later on, in Bhutan, after Charlie discovers that the luscious Charula Kahr is travelling incognito among the bearers, he begins subconsiously to watch for her, while becoming aware that he 'was becoming rather too familiar with the sight of many of our bearers' backsides.'

Third, I have to say something about the exceptional quality of C.W. Lovatt's writing. For me, there are two things that stand out: the first is his use of wonderfully apt similes and metaphors, and his often poetic descriptions - the kind that make a reader smile, and go back to reread the passage.

The following are just a few examples of this: describing the Cheeboo in his robes - 'looking like a deflated balloon in his silks'; 'Lord Brampton's voice cut across my thoughts like dawn's first light upon a dream'; about Lord Brampton, perched high above the ground on his elephant, 'looked out at the world much as God Himself must have done on the seventh day'; about Charlie's last conversation with Charula Kahr - 'her gaze slowly slid from my face like a tear down a cheek, to settle upon some object on the floor'; and this wonderfully poetic passage describing Charlie's unexpected discovery on a bitterly cold, dark night of the nearly lifeless Charula in the snow - 'the object's dark form mingling into invisibility on the moon shadows of the rock.'

The second thing I really appreciate about this author's writing is the very visual - almost cinematic - quality of the way he sets his scenes. A great example of this is at the beginning of the assault by Charlie and his small group of brave fellow-rescuers on the castle in which Lord Sangay has imprisoned Charula Kahr, in the dead of a very dark night. The author has the true storyteller's gift of using as many senses as possible to set a scene so clearly that it plays in the mind like a film. Look what he does with just four short sentences: 'On the far side was yet another door, this one of stout wooden planks. Beneath its sill was a faint glimmer of light. I could feel the close presence of my comrades gathered behind me, hear the excitement of their breathing, and smell it on their sweat. There was the soft 'tink' as one of their sabre points came to rest on the stone flags of the floor.' The entire scene is dramatic and exciting and suspenseful, and made even more immediate by such evocative details.

And finally, I must mention the scene that is probably my favourite in the book, and which I have read again and again just to appreciate how he does it! It happens right at the end of the book, and the author again shows the screenwriter's skill - this time using the simple device of an umbrella as a prop, to focus a great deal of dialogue and pertinent information between different groups of characters, and he does this in a very subtle but very interesting and effective way.

Some months have passed between the scene at the end of the last chapter, right after the rescue of Charula, and this one. The characters are back in India; there is a march-past in front of the Viceroy of troops on their way to war in Bhutan, and, once again, it is raining.

At the beginning of the scene, we find Charlie, Dr Simpson, and the Cheeboo 'huddled beneath the remains of the Cheeboo's well-travelled and tattered umbrella' and while they are thus together, much necessary information about what happened after the mission left Bhutan, and why the troops are off to war is delivered to the reader.

Then the Viceroy on the dais spots Charlie, and dispatches Ram Singh - with his umbrella - toward the group to tell Charlie that the Viceroy wishes to speak with him, and, 'as Ram's umbrella offered greater shelter from the elements than the Chee's,' Charlie willingly accompanied him.

In the course of Charlie and Ram's making their way to the dais, with Ram 'linking a companionable arm through mine, and sauntering along as if we were the best of chums', more pertinent information is passed on to Charlie, giving answers to two great mysteries from the beginning of the book: the motives of Lord Brampton's wife, and how Lord Elgin knew about Charlie's discoveries in Africa - which had led to his being chosen as one of Elgin's 'Specials' for the trek to Bhutan.

By this time, Charlie and Ram having arrived at the canopied dais, the Viceroy, to secure some privacy for his own discussion with Charlie, turned to Ram Singh with the words, 'Lend us your umbrella, will you?' Charlie 'hurried to accept it from him and held it over both our heads as he led me out from under the canopy, while I wondered what on earth this could entail.' Again, very important information for Charlie about what might have happened to the mission if he had not acted as he had, and about another offer of employment from the Viceroy, along with Charlie's response, is passed on under the umbrella during this encounter. It is an amazingly well-constructed scene, and an ingenious way to pass on information among characters and to the reader.

This really is a terrific book - and I'm convinced it really would make a great film as well!

No comments:

Post a Comment