Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Miss Timmins' School for Girls by Nayana Currimbhoy

Title: Miss Timmins' School for Girls
Author: Nayana Currimbhoy

Genre: Fiction (India / Historical - 1970s / Girls School / Murder Mystery / Post-Colonial)
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper Paperbacks (6/21/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked immensely!
Did I finish?: Yes -- I couldn't stop thinking about this book.
One-sentence summary: A young teacher's life is changed by love (and sex), the murder of a colleague, and family drama in 1970s India.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction, South Asian

Do I like the cover?: Yes. It references a rather iconic moment from the story.

I'm reminded of...: Charlotte Greig, Zoë Heller

First line: Today Charu came back to me, suddenly.

Did... I greatly appreciate the glossary in the back?: YES! It made my wiki-ing a lot less!

Did... I stay up multiple nights because I couldn't stop reading?: YES! At 491 pages, this was not one of my three-hour reads, but it was so good I didn't want to go to bed.

Do... I love the font used in the novel for the chapter initials and page numbers?: YES!
Sadly, this book didn't have that page at the end that explains the history of the fonts used so I've no idea what it is. But it's pretty!

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow for sure! I think this would make a smashing book club novel as there are so many fascinating elements that beg discussion.

Why did I get this book?: The title!

Review: Even though there is a murder mystery that is central to the novel, I actually found Miss Timmins' School for Girls to be an engrossing kind of coming of age story, following 20-year old Charulata Apte as she struggles to discover the woman she is, be it a bellbottom-wearing hippie in Bombay or simply a graceful beauty like her mother. Charu occupies that awkward place where one feels (and should be) grown up and yet, feels (and often behaves) childishly.  As she leaves her parents for her first job as a teacher at a boarding school, her life turns especially tumultuous and confusing when a white teacher is murdered and she's involved.

Currimbhoy creates an evocative setting in the British all-girls school in rural Panchgani, especially the fishbowl living between students and teachers. Secrets and scandals -- large or small -- constantly threaten to be exposed, and the confusing mix of hormones, isolation, and differing social classes create an explosive brew.  Reading, I was reminded very much of other British school fiction from The History Boys to Notes on a Scandal: What Was She Thinking? to the St. Trinian's series.

In fact, literature and popular culture play a huge role in this novel, from the iconic music of the late '60s and early '70s as the soundtrack for Charu's social life to books by Nabokov (shocking and daring), Enid Blyton (the aspiration of the school), or William Golding (what the schoolgirls are really like).  As I measure my own life in music and books, this really struck a chord with me and added a sense of realism to the story and gave me a place to empathize with Charu.

I found I liked all the characters and found their stories compelling; the novel is long (and perhaps a little too long at moments) but I enjoyed the way the various story lines played out and were resolved, and I had no problem keeping everyone straight.  From the trio of mischievous students who set out to solve the mystery to Charu's extended family (and the drama that came with them), there was a feast of tensions that gave Charu and this novel the oomph that made it more than murder mystery.  I recommend this book for a long trip, when you've got many nights available to curl up and read (and don't mind waiting until the very end for the mystery to be solved!).

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Giveaway!  I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Miss Timmins' School for Girls to one lucky reader!  To enter, just leave a comment with an email address.  Open to US/CA readers, ends 7/29.  For another entry, be sure to stop by and comment on my interview with Nayana Currimbhoy!

26 comments:

  1. I don't think I enjoyed this one as much as you did, but I do admit that it had some great points. I am glad to read another perspective on it, and I am really glad that you enjoyed it. I think your comment that it was more of a coming of age story than a murder mystery is very perceptive, and right on.

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  2. I hadn't really given much thought to reading this book, but you've made it sound really good. Glad to hear it's more than just a murder mystery. Please throw my name in the hat!

    diaryofaneccentric@hotmail.com

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  3. So good that you did not want to put it down :D I like that and all this good fiction, I want

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  4. @Heather: I'll go see your review now -- this morning, I described it to a coworker as a bit like A Separate Peace (or at least, my memory of it) -- the coming of age meets murder is the association. The book had a v particular feel in terms of narrative that I can see not appealing and in a different place, I might not have had patience for it. But right now, the meandering path toward the end satisfied me.

    @Anna: It's hard to articulate but in some ways, the emphasis on the murder mystery part doesn't feel accurate (to me) -- really it was about how Charu got to that point, got past that point, felt about it, etc. In a good way!

    @Blodeuedd: I've been on a good streak!

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  5. thank you for the opportuntity to read this novel...i enjoyed your synopsis of it, audra.

    karenk
    kmkuka at yahoo dot com

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  6. I've been curious about this one. It sounds like it's good. I'd love to read it then!

    Margaret
    singitm@hotmail.com

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  7. Thanks for the review! I have heard good things about this one! I must put it on my TBR list.

    lag110 at mchsi dot com

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  8. This one sounds really interesting! I also love that the cover evokes a scene from the book; I wish more covers did. I think it makes it easier to remember books going forward.

    Please enter me! nomadreaderblog@gmail.com

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  9. Your review has made me want to read this even more! The schoolgirls are like William Golding's books? I loved Lord of the Flies...

    susanna DOT pyatt AT student DOT rcsnc DOT org

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  10. What's funny is that the reason you wanted to read it was for the title, but the title is what ultimately made me not want to read it. LOL But now your review really has me curious.

    savvyverseandwit at gmail

    Thanks for the giveaway

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  11. I'm unsure about the cover, but I love your review, so I really want to read it now! Thanks for the giveaway:)

    jwitt33 at live dot com

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  12. I'm glad you enjoyed this one. Thanks for being on the tour.

    PS. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who reads about the typeface at the end of a book!

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  13. One book I am sorry that the giveaway is not open to all!!! Sounds good and my idea of a good book.

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  14. I love the cover and title of the book also. Please include me in the drawing for the book.
    kathleenbianchi at ymail.com

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  15. I have this book on my TBR pile. I enjoy reading books where the music of the times features in the story, and it doesn't hurt that the music of the 60s and 70s is a favorite of mine :)

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  16. Haven't heard of this before but now I'm curious. You made it sound so good :)

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  17. There's something about this cover that I like. Please count me in!

    nfmgirl AT gmail DOT com

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  18. This book has an amazing storyline and I would love to win and read it.
    Thanks for the chance to win it.

    cenya2 at hotmail dot com

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  19. Sounds like a good summer read.

    maynekitty[at]live[dot]com

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  20. This sounds like something I would love. Count me in :)

    quixoticdreamer(at)hotmail(dot)com

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  21. This looks like it contains some mystery...meaning I should love it!

    Shana S.
    shanaelyse@gmail.com

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  22. I love historical fiction!
    mamabunny13 at gmail dot com

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  23. The cover is striking and dramatic and I know that this book wouldb e memorable. Many thanks. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

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  24. This unique novel has everything that appeals to be. What a great giveaway. elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com

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  25. This sounds like an interesting book! Thanks for the chance!

    nancyecdavis AT bellsouth DOT net

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  26. I have seen this book on the Noteworthy Fiction table at Barnes and Noble and was intrigued by the cover. I am going to have to read it now.

    Ash
    aejl316@yahoo.com

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