Monday, 16 January 2012
Review: India Dark - Kirsty Murray
Extent: 336 pages
Pub Date: 1st January 2012
A story of secrets, lies and lost innocence. MADRAS, 1910: Posey Swift and Tilly Sweetrick are caught up in a scandal that will change their lives forever. Singing and Dancing across a hundred stages as members of a troupe of Australian child performers, they travel by steam train into the heart of India. But as one disaster follows another, money runs short and tempers fray. What must the girls do to protect themselves, and how many lives will be ruined if they try to break free?
It's nice to get away from over populated genres once in a while and find a story that sticks with you because of its originality and poignancy and there are few books that do this better than those based on true stories. The originality is in the truth itself as no one writes fiction about real life - it's too dull, lacks perfection and doesn't have succinct beginnings, middles and ends. But once in a while some clever writer digs up a story worth telling and passes it through their magic keyboard to create a book that really moves you. Kirsty Murray is without doubt one of those clever writers.
India Dark's basis in truth is a real asset to this story as you're not just tagging along with fictional characters, you're empathising with real people. Hopelessness and desperation ooze off the page but it's made all more poignant by the fact that this really happened to real people. It's clear that the author has really studied her characters, she knows them inside out and knows exactly how each one would react to different situations. The chapters are told from the point of view of either the innocent Poesy Swift or the feisty Tilly Sweetrick who both have such distinct voices, the reader is drawn into seeing the story from two very different sides. Here's the clever bit: Tilly's voice begins very obnoxious so you immediately side with Poesy, thinking that her innocence and openness are allowing you to see what's really happening, however, as the story moves on, you begin to see that it's not Tilly who is obscuring the truth but it is in fact Poesy. She has sealed her eyes, ears and mouth with innocence tape, leading the reader through her enforced perfect world which leaves you stinging with pity as Tilly and the forces of evil gradually peel the tape off. In the end, I much preferred Tilly's voice as she actually had the maturity and the guts to save the children from a cruel fate.
The setting for India Dark is fascinating. I had no idea people used to tour troupes of performing children around the world and of course there's a lot of socio-political history that goes with it. Everywhere seemed to belong to one European country or another back in the early 20th century and Kirsty Murray has expertly captured the feelings, reactions and trends of the times, the strange mix of east and west that really weren't all that compatible. It's a real lesson in social history and the tour around southeast Asia and India is a colourful backdrop to the story. The episodes of travel work really well with the developing plot line and characters. It's a real treat to get a glimpse into life at this time and the author has created just the right tone for it to be authentic yet relevant to a modern audience.
India Dark is a real gem of a book by the fact that it's a real standalone story. It doesn't fuel any genre craze but instead it stays with you as a unique testament to the human condition. It's a cautionary tale of the danger of innocence and lies but also a tribute to unyielding courage in the face of hopelessness. A great way to start 2012!