Author: Elizabeth Cadell
Publication: William Morrow, hardcover, 1982
Setting: 1913-1929, India and EnglandDescription: Annerley Brooke (whose name is really Rosalind Anna Lee, after her deceased mother) has been brought up frugally in India with her maternal grandmother, and father, who coaches the sons of affluent Indian families before they are sent to away boarding school. Her closest friends are two very different but equally imperious young women, Shareen Prebdel, who is from a cultured Indian family, and Moira Fenwick, whose parents are well-off but not very nice. Shareen and Moira are jealous of each other’s demands on Annerley’s time but have much in common, including brothers at the same school in England. When Annerley’s father decides it is time for Annerley herself to go to England to school, he arranges for her to be a day student and live in a modest cottage near Exeter with her grandmother. Despite hating school, Moira decides to go too and begs Mr. Brooke to coach her so she can be in Annerley’s form.
The Great War begins while Annerley is at school in England. Her father enlists and is captured in Greece, where he is interned. Moira’s brother Mark is wounded and comes to Devon to recuperate, bringing Shareen’s brother Chandra, who is now at Oxford. There follows the happiest summer of Annerley’s life, simply hanging out with friends roughly her own age. At the end of the summer, her quiet grandmother dies, and Annerley pays a visit to her paternal grandmother, the ruthless woman who disowned Mr. Brooke when he married below him, but she is determined to go back to India to recapture the happiness of her childhood. However, India has not stood still in the years she was gone and, to Annerley’s surprise, the Prebdels have become followers of Ghandi and of the Indian people’s fight for independence, which makes her homecoming very different from what she expected.
My Impression: In many ways, this is Cadell’s richest yet most melancholy book, and reflects that she herself was born in 1903 and brought up in Calcutta. She was essentially the same age as her heroine. Annerley’s love of India is simple, reflecting her openness to the people, both native Indians and everyone else she encounters. She is beloved in return. Her world in India is wider and more colorful than her life in England, although that expands when her friends' brothers appear on the scene.
I much prefer the simultaneously sophisticated and idealistic Chandra to Moira’s handsome brother Mark, who never lets Annerley finish a sentence. It was obvious to me in this reread that Chandra and Annerley had feelings for each other that are never articulated because after his father visits Chandra is reminded there is an arranged marriage in store for him and a duty to fight against British rule. Chandra also knows Mark loves Annerley and basically tells him to go for it. I think Annerley loves them both:
Annerley was silent because she was struggling under a weight of depression . . . Her feelings were too confused, too uncharacteristically pessimistic to analyze; she knew only that she seemed to feel in the air a sense of doom. In these past few moments, something pleasant, something happy had come to an end. Something that she had treasured had slipped away.
She tried to regard the situation in the light of common sense. This has been a lovely, lovely summer, but summers had to end. In this small patch of garden, the four of them had met, talked, enjoyed one another’s company. There would be other gardens, other sunny days, other happy meetings.
But at this moment, she could not believe it. Something told her that the end was here and now.
I was not familiar with the idiom of a lion in the way, which means the difficulty, obstacle, or danger impeding one's progress that causes one to immediately or prematurely abandon one's duties or ambitions. It apparently derives from Proverbs 22:13: ‘The slothful man saith, There is a lion without, I shall be slain in the streets’. So in this context, I suppose the lion is the obstacle between Annerley and the return to India and her father she craves. Do you agree? She cannot recapture the life they had before the War because that world has changed.