cover image Coromandel Sea Change

Coromandel Sea Change

Rumer Godden. William Morrow & Company, $18 (263pp) ISBN 978-0-688-10397-2

Although the plot of the celebrated English novelist ( Black Narcissus ) and memoirist's ( A House with Four Rooms ) latest effort is sadly stale, it is worth reading for its profusion of atmospheric delights. Godden invokes her beloved India in all its colors, creating a hotel by the Coromandel Sea and peopling it with staff and guests, mostly British and American, who enact some nefarious dramas. The benevolent Auntie Sanni, proprietor, watches knowingly as a diplomatic couple on their honeymoon comes to grief, rent by disparate visions of India: what stuffy Blaise sees as sordid, the incandescent Mary finds moving and even transfigurative. To Blaise's chagrin, Mary gets swept up in the local elections, dazzled by a politician whose spirituality changes her forever. Meanwhile, the aloof Olga Manning attends to mysterious proceedings in Calcutta, and a pseudonymous journalist dispatches his spies throughout the area. Adultery, blackmail and mortal tragedy further foment the story line. If the characters conform to stereotypes, they nonetheless quicken through Godden's lightning-fast portraiture and the consummate charm of her setting. (Aug.)