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THE MISSION HOUSE by Carys Davies Kirkus Star


by Carys Davies

Pub Date: Feb. 16th, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-982144-83-8
Publisher: Scribner

A remote Indian hill town inescapably shaped by its colonial past becomes a refuge for a self-doubting Englishman seeking peace and finding unsuspected engagement.

Lightly yet deftly crafted, hovering in tone somewhere between comedy, tragedy, and fable, Welsh author Davies’ understated second novel considers isolated characters and their yearnings against the historical long view and looming political violence. Hilary Byrd has fled English suburbia to reach this former British hill station in India, seeking an escape from modern clamor. A sexual blank slate, inclined to depression, Byrd is happy to be offered temporary shelter in a missionary’s bungalow by the local Padre and settles into a gentle routine that includes the daily services of Jamshed, an auto rickshaw driver. The Padre’s household includes Priscilla, a young woman who had been abandoned as a child. Byrd fears he's being groomed to take Priscilla on, but then, over time, as he teaches her English, sewing, and baking, he finds his feelings for her developing. But Priscilla loves another, Jamshed’s nephew Ravi, a barber who wears a white Stetson and has ambitions to become a country and western singer. Davies’ accumulation of curious, private, overlapping characters is presented tenderly in an India that seems, despite mention of internet cafes, scarcely to belong to the modern era. But nostalgia is intended to contrast with the seismic rumblings referenced in the Padre’s mentions of “the beatings and the burnings, the lynchings and the riots.” Davies is not an overtly political writer, but there will be a further pointing up of the advancing shift from imperialist past to nationalist future. The savage storm of fanaticism will eventually arrive in this sheltered corner, shattering hearts and expectations, before Davies' cast of hopefuls and misfits is released into an uncertain future.

Davies subtly synthesizes complex issues into a low-key yet compelling web of affecting destinies.