Two Under the Indian Sun by Jon and Rumer Godden

Two Under the Indian Sun cover

Two Under the Indian Sun by Jon and Rumer Godden was first published in 1966. It was a surprise to discover that Jon Godden is actually a girl. The Godden sisters had originally been living in colonial India with their parents, the father was working for a shipping company. The prologue says that the book isn’t so much an autobiography as an evocation of a time that is gone.The girls had been living in India when they were very young but had been shipped back to England for their education. When World War 1 broke out it was decided they would be better off being back in India, to avoid the zeppelins in London.

Jon and Rumer were thrilled to bits to get back to India as being farmed out to aunts in England had been an unhappy experience for them. The part of India they lived in is now part of Bangladesh and at that time the community was a very mixed one with a multitude of religions and castes. The girls were involved in all the religious celebrations but as their mother was terrified that they would get ill from contaminated food they never got to try Indian food, that must have been terrible, being able to smell it but not eat it. In fact they really led a very narrow life, not being able to play with many other children, the Anglo-Indian children next-door neighbours were off limits to them, except on Christmas Day when they were allowed to speak to them and of course as far as the Indians were concerned the Godden children were untouchables. There were two younger sisters by the time Jon and Rumer got back to India.

Life in India was very comfortable for them though, they had a far higher standard of living than they would have had back in England. In fact when they had to go back to England they had to travel third class on trains, whereas in India it had been first class travel for them.

This is a good read and as I had no idea that Jon Godden had also been a writer I’ll now have to track down some of her books. India was obviously a huge influence on the sisters, so I suspect that all of the books will have an Indian setting.

Have any of you read anything by Jon Godden?

Pitlochry Bookshop

We had a close look at the weather forecast this morning and decided it was good enough to sashay up to the wee Highland town of Aberfeldy to go for a good walk up the Birks of Aberfeldy, more about that at a later date, but you can see images of it here.

It ended up being a gorgeous day up there and on the way back we decided to veer off to Pitlochry, mainly because I had heard that there was a bookshop in one of the railway station buildings. In fact we discovered that you have to go on to the station platform to get into the shop which presumably used to be offices or a waiting room or some such thing. You really have to know that it’s there as you will never stumble across it, unless you’re getting off a train.

There was a display of hardback books from the Reprint Society right at the door so I wasn’t even in there two seconds before I had a couple of books in my hands and in the end I took books to the counter to pay for them. The sales assistant called me ‘madam’ – I’m never sure if that’s a good or a bad thing, it makes me feel old anyway.

However, he was very impressed with my haul of books and he gave me a discount despite them already being ridiculously cheap compared with other secondhand bookshops. I felt quite bad about that as I think the proceeds go to a local charity.

So what did I buy this time?

1. The Edge of the Cloud by K.M Peyton
2. Flambards in Summer by K.M.Peyton
3. Flambards Divided by K.M. Peyton
I loved the first Flambards book, they were published by Puffin aimed at older children I suppose but I only got to know about the books after watching Flambards on TV in 1979 and that was not a children’s programme. I’ve already read the first book in the series.

4. The Rider of the White Horse by Rosemary Sutcliff
5. The Willow Cabin by Pamela Frankau
6. The Battle of the Villa Fiorita by Rumer Godden
7. This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart
8. Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster
9. Peak Country by Joseph E. Morris which is an A&C Black book from their Beautiful Britain series. 1914.

Not a bad haul I think you’ll agree. I really do have to concentrate on my own books now!


The Peacock Spring by Rumer Godden

The Peacock Spring cover

The Peacock Spring by Rumer Godden was first published in 1975 and the setting is mainly post independence India, but it begins in England where 14 year old Una and her 12 year old sister Halcyon are at boarding school as their father is based in India, he’s a diplomat and has custody of the girls after his divorce from Hal’s mother. Una is good at mathematics and is hoping to be able to go to Oxford to study maths there, eventually. So she’s dismayed when her headmistress calls her in to her office and tells her that her father has decided to take them out of school and they are to continue their education in India, with the help of a governess. Halcyon is thrilled by the prospect though, the sisters are opposites in character and Hal lives for pretty things and socialising, she’s a very precocious 12 year old.

As soon as they get to India Una realises that Alix the so-called governess, can’t teach them anything as she knows nothing of maths at all. She is however a very pretty Eurasian, half Indian and half European and as such is despised by the Indians and the British. Except for the girls’ father, who is obviously besotted by her and doesn’t see how manipulative, greedy and bad tempered Alix is.

I’ve always admired Godden’s writing and I really liked this book, although I’m sure it’s aimed at teenage girls as a warning as to what can happen if you get too involved with the opposite sex. Suffice to say that Una discovers that she is quite similar to her father in some ways.

It’s about prejudice, snobbery and class systems with a bit of Indian politics thrown into it and of course as Rumer Godden grew up in India, I’m sure she captured the atmosphere of the place as it was back then.

Rumer Godden/Dutch

This must be the most books I have ever read in any year, according to Goodreads I’ve read 109 so far and I still have some updating to do there. There are also some books which I don’t bother to put on Goodreads, I’m sure you’re the same, I tend not to bother with cookery books or craft/lifestyle/design books, even though I’ve read them cover to cover.

During the awful weather we had over the last three weeks or so I did almost nothing but read. Burying my head in books seemed like the best way to avoid the inevitable depression of days and days of endless rain. I just took myself off into different and more interesting worlds, even although the sky outside was so dark I needed a lamp on during the day to be able to read anything at all.

Every other activity came to a standstill, I must admit that it’s often sheer laziness which leads to me reaching for a book, instead of doing something a bit more active and productive, such as sewing machine wrangling. My fabric stash keeps multiplying but it’s not being converted into anything, it’s just piling up, in much the same way as my unread book piles do I suppose.

One of the things which I swore to myself that I would do this year was attempt to learn Dutch. Some of my extended family members are Dutch – or half Dutch and when we went to the Netherlands to visit them last year it felt shameful that I couldn’t say anything to anyone in shops – not even please and thank you. Mind you everyone there seems to speak English. The next visit I was going to be better prepared, but my Futurelearn Dutch course came at a time when I was madly busy doing other crucial stuff. It was only a three week course but I only managed the first week, and although I did well with it I just never got around to the other two weeks. Obviously it was just a wee bit of a taster course, but I had bitten off more than I could chew.

The other thing I thought I would do to help me learn Dutch was to read a book, one page in English then the same page in Dutch. I thought it would be good for learning lots of vocabulary. Well it would have been if I could have got further than page one! Whilst in the Netherlands I spotted a Rumer Godden book in a charity shop, I do love charity/thrift shops, you never know what you might find. I knew that I had a copy of the same book in English back home, The Greengage Summer, I bought it to read them in tandem.

Rumer Godden Books

So I’m starting again on page one, with my Dutch/English dictionary at hand – and yes that was another charity shop purchase, and a jotter to note down the vocabulary. I’m determined to get past page one this time.

I’m also going to be reading another charity shop purchase – Two Under the Indian Sun by Jon and Rumer Godden. It’s an account of the siblings’ experiences being brought up in India. The preface begins: This is not an autobiography as much as an evocation of a time that is gone, a few years that will always be timeless for us; an evocation that is as truthful as memory can ever be. It should be interesting I think and I bet I know which book I’ll finish first!

Recent Book Purchases

We were in Edinburgh showing a bookish friend our favourite book haunts in Stockbridge. Honestly I had absolutely no intention of looking at books myself, but you know what it’s like, a book spine captures you attention – and you’re doomed. So I bought this lot:

Latest Book Haul

1. A Croft in the Hills by Katharine Stewart. I bought this purely because of the unbelievably twee cover which is in very good condition, despite the book having been published in 1960.

2. The Peacock Spring by Rumer Godden. I read a lot of her books way back in the year dot when I worked in libraries, I now can’t remember which ones I’ve read for sure. I looked at this one and thought I haven’t read it, or certainly have no memory of it. I wish I had kept note of all the books I had read in the past.

3. The Citadel by A.J. Cronin. I was sure that I had this book already but I haven’t been able to find it so I must have given it away. Anyway, I’m not sure if I’ve even read it before as it’s only his Hatter’s Castle which sticks in my mind from way back. If anyone wants to join me in a readalong of The Citadel – let me know.

4. The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel. I’ve read the title story from this collection and I’m looking forward to reading the rest in this collection of short stories.

5. Nightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons. I’ve read her Cold Comfort books and loved them. The Matchmaker was okay, this one is a Virago publication so I have high hopes of it.

6. Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston (1884-1944). This is another of those British Library Crime Classics. Kingston apparently wrote twenty crime novels but he’s new to me.

Have you read any of these book? If so, what did you think of them?

From the Guardian Review – Rumer Godden by Rosie Thomas

It was my mother-in-law who introduced me to the writing of Rumer Godden, way back in the 1970s. She had loved reading In This House of Brede, and she was keen to read more. Thankfully I was able to get them all from the library that I worked in at the time. Godden had a long writing career and wrote her last novel in 1997, the year before she died at the age of 90. You can read what I thought about that book here.

If you’re interested in finding out more about her you can read the article in this week’s Guardian review here. This article is about the novels which were set in India. Quite a few of her books were made into films, including In This House of Brede and Black Narcissus, both of which are about nuns, not a favourite topic of mine, which makes it all the more surprising that I really enjoyed the books, albeit nearly 40 years ago. Yes it must be that long ago, but I can hardly believe it!

Cromartie v. The God Shiva by Rumer Godden

Cromartie v. the God Shiva cover

Or to give it its full title: Cromartie versus the God Shiva acting through the Government of India. This was a very recent purchase from an Edinburgh charity shop and it jumped swiftly to the top of the queue mainly because it’s only 170 pages long so it’s a quick read.

This book was Rumer Godden‘s last one and was published the year before she died. She had a long life, born in 1907 and died in 1998. She spent the last 20 years of her life in Dumfriesshire, Scotland, but she lived in India for a long time and a lot of her books have an Indian setting.

This one is set in India’s Coromandel coast. A beautiful and ancient statue of Shiva has disappeared from the Patna Hall Hotel and has been replaced by a fake. Who stole it and who made the fake? How did Cromartie, a Canadian dealer end up with the statue? Michael Dean is a young lawyer from London who has been given the case for the defence.

This was quite an enjoyable light read and I find it amazing that it was written when Rumer was 89. I had only read her earlier books before. Black Narcissus and In This House of Brede were both made into films but the books are worth reading too, even if like me you have no interest in the RC church.

Her writing career stretched from 1936 until 1998 so there are quite a few to work through.

Book Haul

It’s half-term and we went to Stockbridge in Edinburgh again and had a good snoop around the bookshops. Too good actually because I ended up spending just over 30 quid – ouch.

The Jasmine Farm by Elizabeth von Arnim
Penny Plain by O. Douglas
Cromartie Versus the God Shiva by Rumer Godden
The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden
The Singer not the Song by Audrey Erskine Lindop
The Corn King and The Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison
The Republic by Plato
The Building of Jalna by Mazo de la Roche
The Soul of Kindness by Elizabeth Taylor
County Chronicle by Angela Thirkell

I don’t feel too bad about it though because quite a few of them will be read for The C P R Book Group – eventually!