We're coming up to the last week of the summer, but there's still time to get away and enjoy the last of the warm weather. And if you do, I know the perfect read for you to relax with.
SYNOPSIS:When modern-language graduate Hema, orphaned and unloved from a young age, applies for a job one summer as an au pair to a little girl in the South of France, she doesn't imagine how her life will change as a result. Her employer, Rahul Raichura, is handsome, rich and charming. Her charge, Amelie, is sweet and loving. Hema thinks perhaps she has found the family she lacked, growing up; but first she has to contend with disapproval, secrets, and bitter memories.
This Jane Eyre-inspired romance with an Indian flavour will make the perfect light beach read for fans of Saz Vora’s other novels. Its more serious themes such as family loyalty, responsibility, and living with a disfigurement, are not laboured too much. Instead, they are woven around the passionate love story of au pair Hema, as she cares for five-year-old Amelie at the home of Amelie’s wealthy guardian, in the South of France.
As a Brontë enthusiast I enjoyed the nods to Jane Eyre – the first encounter in the lane showing Hema being almost knocked down by Rahul’s motor car, instead of almost trampled by Rochester’s horse. The tensions of the social classes of Jane Eyre are translated convincingly from the contempt of the upper classes towards a modest governess, to the snobbery of the wealthy Indian set towards the young au pair. Vora also explores cultural attitudes to physical disfigurement and disability, as she has in her previous novel Where Have We Come (read my review here) – a conversation that many might say is much-needed in South Asian communities.
Vora has taken Charlotte Brontë’s original story in a direction that plays down the Gothic horror elements and ramps up the romance. Apart from the age difference with Hema, Rahul is no Rochester, being handsome, earnest and missing the cutting sarcasm of Brontë’s gruff, Byronic hero. Hema is not so completely friendless as Jane either, making for a more relatable and self-assured heroine, and there are no real villains – only misunderstandings and tragic circumstances.
While Christian values and moral dilemmas are at the heart of Jane Eyre, Vora’s characters turn to their Hindu faith for strength and solace, and as a motif the book taps into the symbolism of fire as sacred and purifying rather than destructive, which works well within the overall context.
The book allows you to escape into a world of idyllic countryside, perfect weather and elegant dinner-parties, where guests wear couture sarees instead of the latest French crinoline gown, listen to old Bollywood love-songs instead of drawing-room piano recitals, and dine on mouthwatering Gujarati specialities instead of stodgy Victorian fare. As always, Vora gives the reader a complete sensual feast to evoke the sights, sounds and tastes of the world she creates. One for your beach bag.
Join the conversation at The Brown Brontë's Book Club .