53. Olivia in India
by O. Douglas
This was O. Douglas' first book, and it felt very much like an autobiography. I couldn't help but believe that this young woman did actually go visit her brother in India. The book is technically an epistolary novel, though the letters are often very long, and so filled with detail and lack of attention to the recipient that I often forgot I was reading letters. She is writing to a close friend of her brother's. They have become friends, too, and the reader wonders occasionally if they might be in love (and finds out in the end). I've read about India in the tremendous autobiographical trilogy by M.M. Kaye: The Sun in the Morning, Golden Afternoon, and Enchanted Evening. 'Her' India was simply magical. It was her home and her life for a long time. She loved it deeply and the books come alive with details and stories. Our Olivia is just a visitor escaping Britain's cold and dreary weather. She does end up staying for months, but it is still mostly a tourist's view, though at the end she does get a bit philosophical about the country:
I don't know if I am horribly sorry to go or profoundly relieved to get away. There is no doubt it is a sudden and dangerous country. Three people we knew have died suddenly of cholera, and two others have had bombs thrown at them.
Off and on during my reading I was a little bored. Though I do enjoy reading accounts of travels, and even looking at friends' travel pictures, I got a little tired of Olivia's observations. Though I wasn't wild about the book, I still found the gentle kindness that is O. Douglas' trademark. And it wasn't bad for a first effort. It just felt like a sort of 'practice' book that may have worked better as a family literary album rather than a published book. In fact, Olivia is writing a book on the Mutiny in India and we read of her concerns about being a writer.
So, not a very interesting book report, but honestly this is the best I can do with a book that didn't thrill me, and which I can barely remember after finishing it only ten days ago. You may read much higher praise of O. Douglas here and here.