Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Once More to India

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Once More to India

Article excerpt

Stating the obvious, but a narrator makes all the difference in the experience of listening to an audio book, as demonstrated by my displeasure when I discovered that the narrator of the first volume in Paul Scott's "Raj Quartet" (Sam Dastor), whom I liked a lot as a reader, did not finish the series, and I had a terrible time getting used to the narrator for the final three volumes. I finally did come to appreciate Richard Brown's voice, but it was a struggle.

I was so captivated by the story of the end of the British colonial era and India's independence and partition that I couldn't resist spending another nine hours listening to "Staying On," something of a sequel to "The Raj Quartet."

Set in 1972 in Pankot, the former British hill station that was key to much of the action in the quartet, which followed multiple characters from 1939 to 1947, "Staying On" zeroes in on a couple, Tusker and Lucy Smalley, who were minor characters in the quartet, she known for her note-taking skills in the various ladies' committees on which she sat but strictly relegated to a lower social strata in the British military wives hierarchy; he a not very ambitious major who by the time of his retirement had reached the rank of colonel.

The Smalleys, who were childless and lived, somewhat romantically, in a hotel in Pankot rather than in one of the military bungalows, chose to stay in India after independence. By 1972, they are literally the only white, British people left in Pankot. Married 40 years, they live in a bungalow adjacent to the hotel where they lived for years before retirement.

The book opens with Tusker dropping dead of a massive coronary on the last Monday in April, 1972, while Lucy was at the hairdresser, then circles back, in typical Scott style, to examine the events leading up to his death.

What makes this a fantastic listening experience is Paul Shelley's narration, which renders Tusker as a hilariously profane (using the kind of language Americans find amusing rather than vulgar), mostly powerless old man, Lucy as a surprisingly stiff- spined woman, their landlady Lila Bhoolabhoy as a supersized terror and her husband (called Billy Boy by Tusker) as simultaneously oversexed and emasculated. …

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