THE CULTURAL ENCOUNTER between Britain and India has exercised the British imagination since the early days of Empire, so much so that any new literary excursion to British India will be revisiting familiar territory. In One Last Look, the Hawaiian-born American novelist Susanna Moore, following in the footsteps of Kipling, Forster, Scott and numerous others, takes on the Raj, depicting it during the years 1836 to 1843 through the eyes of an unmarried, aristocratic Englishwoman, Lady Eleanor Oliphant, who along with her fey younger sister, Harriet, and hedonistic cousin, Lafayette, accompanies her brother, Henry, to Calcutta when he is appointed Governor- General of India. The novel is written in the form of a journal and is closely based on the extant diaries and letters of three intrepid daughters of the British Empire: Fanny and Emily Eden, and Fanny Parks. The author's admission that she uses some of the 'actual words' of these women disarms her readers and keeps us guessing throughout as to what is real and what is imaginary.
After a harrowing voyage out, Eleanor is initially horrified by the heat and squalor that she finds, as were so many Englishwomen on arriving in India for the first time. While Henry gets on with his imperial mission and Lafayette freely indulges his vices in 'the gentlemen's club atmosphere' of