The Mission House

Carys Davies. Scribner, $24 (272p) ISBN 978-1-982144-83-8
Davies follows up West with a stunning, understated novel set in a former British hill station in contemporary Tamil Nadu, India. Hilary Byrd, a 51-year-old British former librarian who lost his job following a mental breakdown and rues the “tapping of keyboards and the singing of babies and the hysterical shouting of the drunk and the angry” that came to define the library where he worked, has come to India for a change of scenery. He ends up in the hill town, and upon meeting the Padre, a Christian Indian and the local clergyman, he’s invited to stay in Canadian missionary’s temporarily vacant bungalow. Byrd, alternately hopeful and despairing, is ferried around by Jamshed, an old rickshaw driver who listens patiently to Byrd’s monologues about his own life’s wrong turns and his enchantment with the town’s “combination of the strange and familiar.” Byrd falls in love with the Padre’s young housekeeper, Priscilla, while Priscilla is captivated by Jamshed’s nephew and his passion for American country music. However, while Byrd putters around obliviously, resentment toward Christians in India grows alongside Hindu nationalism, and the affable Padre and Priscilla find themselves threatened, a situation that involves Byrd in an unsettling denouement. Told from alternating perspectives, this captivating, nuanced tale balances a pervading sense of melancholy with pockets of wry humor. Davies’s masterly elegy is not to be missed. Agent: Bill Clegg, the Clegg Agency. (Feb.)
Reviewed on : 11/19/2020
Release date: 02/16/2021
Genre: Fiction
Downloadable Audio - 978-1-7971-2128-4
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