This love story about missed opportunities illustrates the constraints imposed by British society in the 1920s. Initially set in a pastoral English village, most of the narrative occurs in the more exotic environs of Ceylon, now Sri Lanka.
Catherine Hamilton and her younger sister, Victoria, are beautiful, intelligent young women. As girls they are smitten with Edward, an older relation, based solely on his good looks. Years later, Edward becomes a policeman in Ceylon, and while visiting England he is drawn to Catherine’s beauty. He convinces her to travel to the British colony as his guest, accompanied only by Victoria. Somehow their parents agree.
While on board, an immediate friendship develops between Catherine and Simon, a British soldier who is returning to Ceylon—a bond that becomes stronger than her relationship with Edward. Still, Edward eventually charms Catherine and persuades her to marry him.
One of author Jane Paul’s strengths is her vivid descriptions of the vastly different locales. However, she is heavy-handed when it comes to foreshadowing, most obviously when Catherine considers something her grandfather taught her: “Never let the Gods know your happiness, lest they become jealous and seek to destroy it.” On several occasions, Paul notes that the gods are watching just before something grave occurs.
Despite limited and stilted dialogue, the characters are well-developed. Paul provides interesting backstories and strong imagery, including the intensity of physical and mental cruelty Edward displays once he and Catherine wed. He gets away with threats and lies despite Catherine’s intellect, due largely to her good nature and social mores that viewed wives as their husbands’ property. Victoria and Simon also fall victim to Edward’s malicious behavior.
Despite the author’s excessive foreshadowing and her overly tidy, didactic tone as she details the characters’ fates near the conclusion, the storyline is engrossing, and readers will appreciate Paul’s descriptions of the two very different landscapes and cultures, which paint a vivid picture of a bygone era.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.