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ONE LAST LOOK by Susanna Moore Kirkus Star

ONE LAST LOOK

By Susanna Moore

Pub Date: Oct. 6th, 2003
ISBN: 0-679-45041-6
Publisher: Knopf

Moore’s (In the Cut, 1995, etc.) fictionalized journal, based on actual published diaries, of life among the Raj in the 1830s and ’40s depicts the convoluted relationship of the British to their Indian subjects.

Lady Eleanor accompanies her brother Henry to Calcutta when he is appointed Governor-General to act as his official hostess (and secret incestuous lover). Also in the household are Eleanor’s younger sister Harriet, their military-minded cousin Lafayette, and a slew of pets and domestic servants. At first, Eleanor, a sensualist at heart, is overcome by a kind of lassitude, a combination of the heat and the strangeness of the new life that throws her into contact not only with Indians but with middle-class Brits for the first time. In contrast, Harriet, always considered a bit dim in their high-born British world, blossoms into a strong, insightful, independent woman, immersing herself in native customs and setting up a laboratory to study the flora and fauna. Gradually, as Eleanor becomes deeply attached to her servants and their world, she begins to see the English role in India in a more complex light. When Henry, a conventional prig despite his sexual proclivities, doesn’t follow Lafayette’s advice about which local ruler to back in Afghanistan, he loses control of the region at the cost of thousands of lives. The scandal of Harriet’s Indian male servant’s gunshot death in her bedroom is covered up, but Harriet’s unspoken intimacy with him is a far greater scandal, even in the eyes of Lafayette, who himself has fathered a half-caste child. When Henry’s term is over (his disgrace over Afghanistan relieved by his new appointment to be First Lord of the Admiralty), Eleanor and Harriet, as dependent sisters, must return to England with their brother. Back on English soil, Harriet withers away while Eleanor (no longer enamored of Henry) survives with the help of her remaining Indian servant and opiates.

When describing her life in India as an “endless disorderly feast,” Eleanor might well be describing One Last Look: rich, lush, scattered, repetitive, and wonderfully satisfying.