Escaping into the Days of Empire

I have always loved to read, and since ditching the television I am of course finding the time to read more, which is wonderful. I’ve found that my tastes have changed a great deal in recent years, a natural progression I am sure, given that I am now in my late 30s, and at a different stage of life, as a relatively new mum. Gone are the days of being sucked into a Jane Green or a Marian Keyes for relaxation – for some reason the old style chick lit just doesn’t hold my attention the way it used to. I’ve always mixed the chick lit with the more highbrow stuff, both have their time and place. Nowadays, however, my “chick lit” seems to be a good Joanna Trollope, which is a bit worrying – can I really have reached that stage?!

Raffles Hotel, Singapore

Whilst backpacking in Southeast Asia a couple of years ago I discovered many new authors in the book exchange stores and guesthouse swap shelves over the seven months or so we spent wandering around over there. Choice can be quite limited so you’re forced to try books you might otherwise not consider or even come across, which is a great thing. For example, I read all Wally Lamb’s novels and loved them. I also read George Orwell’s Burmese Days, while in Burma. It was incredible to go up into the hill station outside Mandalay and actually see all the colonial houses, the clubhouse, places Orwell probably visited during his time as a police officer in Burma. During that trip I also read J.G. Ballard’s Empire of the Sun, reread A Passage to India by E.M. Forster, and worked my way through several other novels set in colonial times in places such as Singapore and Malaysia.

Along the Singapore River

On many occasions during that trip and during a previous extended stay in Southeast Asia, and particularly when visiting Burma, I felt ashamed and embarrassed to be British. I am no great expert on all the historical details of the time, but it seems clear that the British took everything they wanted and more, and left broken countries in their wake when they departed. Not to mention the abhorent, inherent arrogance and racism of Empire. However, I have always had a fascination for Merchant Ivory type films and novels about the British Empire and there was something so special about reading about those times in their proper settings.

Cavenagh Bridge & Fullerton Building, Singapore

I haven’t read anything of this nature for a couple of years now – motherhood does tend to limit one’s concentration span and free time I have found! – but last week in the library I happened upon Bone China by Roma Tearne, which is set in Sri Lanka (where I have not yet been) in the early 1940s, as the British are preparing to depart. I find I can really disappear into this novel, which is wonderful, escapist relief, and much appreciated particularly at the moment when I am having some issues sleeping and relaxing. It is also a thousand times better than watching mindless nonsense on the telly to wind down! So, I am now compiling a list of similar titles to get from the library and I plan to escape into the days of Empire as much as possible in the few short weeks left until my daughter is born. If you have any suggestions, please share!

Reminder of colonial times, Singapore

Blogtoberfest 2012, 29/31

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4 responses

  1. Great post, what a wonderful idea to show pictures of all the colonial buildings. I love these sorts of books too. The Sri Lanka (Ceylon then) one sounds well worth reading. A few others I’ve enjoyed are Staying On by Paul Scott, about British who stayed in India after independence; the Glass Palace, a family epic about Burma and Malaysia, by Amitav Ghosh; and East of the Sun by Julia Gregson, about three British women in colonial India. Thanks for the book recommendation, would love to hear more!

    1. Thanks ever so much, Fiona – exactly what I was looking for! The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott was first on my list, I just googled “Staying On” and it’s apparently kind of like the 5th book, which I wasn’t aware of – thank you. The others look excellent too and I haven’t read / heard of any of them. I think I will try and get those this week from the library and they should keep me going until the baby is born (after which I may never read again haha). Muchas gracias y espero que todo va bien en España 🙂

  2. I planned on reading books related to the countries I was visiting but found that I could only manage the light chick lit-type books in the end lol

    1. Oh believe me I did read a LOT of those too lol. George Orwell isn’t exactly beach reading 😉 Thanks for visiting The Mindful Mum!

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