The India House by William Palmer - review by Brian Martin

Brian Martin

The Tune of Change

The India House


Jonathan Cape 248pp £30

The India House (or Round House because of its octagonal design), set in ‘the strange county of Shropshire’, is where three generations of women live – old Mrs Covington, her daughter Evelyn, and eighteen-year-old Julia, Evelyn’s daughter. The year is 1956 and the three women are faded exiles from the Indian Raj. The British Empire disintegrates. India has gone ten years previously. Britain is consumed by the Suez Crisis, and EOKA terrorism in Cyprus is an ongoing problem. In a state of left-over Edwardian seclusion, Evelyn tries to bring up Julia secure from the coarseness and vulgarity of modern society. In order to achieve Julia’s exclusive education, the senior women have engaged a private tutor, Mr Henry, a former housemaster at Evelyn’s brother’s boarding school, who apparently had to leave because of some unspecified scandal. His curriculum is both traditional and conservative, much of it culled from the 1911 eleventh edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. There is much emphasis on Tennyson’s poetry. He considers T S Eliot a charlatan: ‘Were a thousand years of prosody, of melody and cadence, to be thrown away at the whim of an American bank clerk?’

William Palmer’s fifth novel is thus a gentle study of an enclosed, mannered family trying to defend itself against the intrusion of an alien modern world of jazz bands and socialism. It is a period piece, like his previous novel The Pardon of Saint Anne, which was set largely in

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