“ Print Length: 309 pages / Publisher: G H Jemsby / Published: 2 Jan 2013 „
'Goodbye Bombay' by Gry Finsnes is narrated by Norwegian-born Christine, a lawyer who moved to Bombay in the early 1980s with her husband, Stephen, and her daughter, Monica. Giving up her law career to play the role of the supportive ex-pat spouse, she finds herself in a place where nothing works as she expects, where the smallest of tasks can turn into major projects and where she's very much a fish out of water. Whilst Bombay is a full-on assault of colours, smells and noises, she lives the privileged but rather boring life of the trailing spouse, playing tennis or swimming at the club, going to the beach house, taking her daughter back and forth to school and dealing with the servants. It was a time when many travellers were going to India for very different reasons than hers and she reflects that "I was the western traveler who stayed in one place and certainly never met a proper guru or smoked anything nastier than Marlboro". She's tall, she's blonde and she stands out like a green chilli in a bowl of red chillies. It's clear that any intention to be invisible in Bombay is going to be a challenge.
Her husband may or may not be taking advantage of the willing bodies of his secretary and female colleagues but Christine can't be entirely sure, and in some ways it seems she'd rather not know. She's a rather relaxed Scandinavian, not really into the whole philosophy of marriage. When she catches the eye of a charming, handsome local man who attends the same circuit of Bombay parties, she's soon falling in lust. Inclined to think that what's sauce for the goose might just as well be sauce for the gander, she can't trust her husband then why shouldn't she have a little fun too? The trouble is that fun can easily turn into something much more serious.
Zarin Tata is the object of Christine's attentions. He's the perfect tall, dark, exotic stranger and Christine is tempted. But of course people are not always who they seem to be and maybe Zarin has his own secrets. Christine flirts, falls, flees, and sets up home with an old friend, Ruth, who is opening a hotel in Darjeeling. Whilst she waits for her divorce, she gets to know a tea plantation owner who might just be what she needs, even if not entirely what she wants.
~Looking back twenty years~
The story is told to us a couple of decades after the action takes place. Christine is back in England, living alone, frightened at the news that someone called 'Tony' has had an accident and is in hospital in a coma. Her friend Phebe is staying with Christine, trying to take her mind off Tony by asking her about her Bombay story. We don't know for quite a long time who Tony is or who he's supposed to be but as he lies in his hospital bed, Phebe questions Christine and digs into her story of what happened in India. As the story progresses we learn who Tony is and about what happened to Christine in Bombay, in Goa, in Darjeeling and eventually back in England.
This 'telling an old friend your story' format is a slightly 'clunky' device for structuring the story but it works, more or less. At times I cringed at the clumsiness of Phebe and Christine's discussions, but I stuck with it. I wanted to know who Tony was, whether he might be who I suspected, and I wanted to know Christine's story. I was a bit miffed when I got to the end to discover there's a big fat lie in the story and it did rather leave me wondering how much I could trust of the rest of what happened to Christine.
~50 Shades of Gry~
The author Gry Finsnes is Norwegian born and I did wonder for a long time if the story was autobiographical. There's a level of detail in some of the passages, a depth of tiny observations that's just too authentic to be entirely made up. I googled to try to find out more but found nothing about her. Eventually when I was about two-thirds of the way through and I really HAD to know if this was her real story, I checked her Amazon page and learned that she did live in Bombay at the same time as her character Christine but she went with a perfectly good husband and returned to Europe four years later without any hanky panky and with her marriage very much intact. I suspect that a lot of those little details that made me suspect autobiography are things that really happened and were personally observed. These were things I felt added a lot to the story. If you really can't tell 'Is it real or not?' then the author's got something right.
I found this Kindle novel after doing a search for books about Darjeeling. I'm already trying to get into the mood for my holiday in October and I'm buying up books to inspire me. The book was in the Kindle Owners Lending Library, the scheme where Amazon Prime members can borrow a book every month free of charge. This was my third 'loaner' and the best so far by quite a margin. The current Amazon list price is £1.91 and it's well worth that.
~Let's get picky~
There were little annoyances that niggled away at me. For some reason every single apostrophe in the entire book is replaced with a square box. I have no idea how or why and after the first hundred pages or so, I could almost ignore it but it was a distraction and should have been spotted and corrected before this hit Amazon in January this year. On the plus side, I'm happy to say that as far as I could spot all the apostrophes were actually in the right place - not something that can be taken for granted in Kindle books, especially those which are self-published. On the other hand, the repeated misspelling of Delhi as 'Dehli' really got on my wick. There were also occasional sentences that weren't entirely WRONG but were clearly written by someone who was not a native English speaker. For example "I had spend two days there" or the unintentionally hilarious "Nothing has touched my dark and quivering love pockets for many years". There are quite a lot of spelling mistakes in addition to the Delhi-Dehli irritation but to be fair, I spot plenty of such mistakes even in properly edited and published books these days.
There's a grade A absolutely howler when she attributes the building of the Taj Mahal to the wrong Moghul emperor, saying it was built by Jehangir rather than Shah Jahan and I thought it wouldn't have taken more than a few seconds to have checked and corrected that.
I don't know if Finsnes self-published 'Goodbye Bombay' or if she employed an editor but this book could be improved by a good spell-check and by working on the layout, especially the layout of the dialogue. Frequently both Christine and Phebe say things in the same paragraph without each person's comment being on a different line. It looks odd, it reads strangely and if you saw it on a printed book you would say "That's just not right".
Zarin Tata is an interesting character. He starts out as the perfect handsome stranger but Finsnes plants the seeds of doubt about the cultural divide between the two lovers early on. Her observations in this area are insightful and well developed. Christine is not so totally naïve as we may at first suspect and she's able to identify the issues that will challenge their relationship. How will Zarin's family, friends, servants and colleagues react to him winning a good looking blonde? Everything rings very true about what's suggested. Meanwhile Christine's husband is written confusingly - he doesn't seem to be too bad a man but Christine's justifying her adultery by claiming all kinds of evils that don't seem to have been too much in evidence in the early part of the book.
~Tata for now~
I disliked the author's decision to hang upon Zarin a surname which is so intrinsically part of Indian high society. Did she really need to make him a Tata and drag a decent real life family into her story? We are told that his parents had a mixed marriage - a Parsi mother, a Muslim father - which is not in itself so unusual (I read a book last week where the parents of the protagonist were also a Parsi and a Christian mixed marriage) but I couldn't really see what it brought to the story. He didn't need to be made more 'real' by giving him a false pedigree.
The scene setting is excellent. Fortunately I know all the places where the book is set and so I could judge that the descriptions were both believable and well-written. Did I believe the love story and its progression? Yes, pretty much so. Not everything works and the rose tinted spectacles are not too much in evidence. I guessed part of the 'twist' in the ending but not the most important part, so I was quite impressed to be so fooled. Whilst there are mistakes in the editing and the layout is at times distracting, Gry Finsnes had written a believable page turner that deserves more attention. It's apparently her first book in English and I wish her well. Keep writing about India and I'll keep buying (or borrowing) whatever comes next.