Sunday Salon: Clash of Innocents by Sue Guiney...and Kipling's Plain Tales from the Hills.
This morning I woke early but happy in my nest of quilt I reached out, grabbed Sue Guiney's A Clash of Innocents and finished it off in one large gulp. It has a heart-warming ending, and I have found the book as a whole to be addictive and very interesting. I learnt a lot about the country of Cambodia, and I particularly liked the main character, Deborah, a sixty-year old 'Mother' of a children's home for orphaned and abandoned children. Her good-hearted nature, which may have become cloying was happily off-set by her brusque and feisty demeanor, and some realistic and unconventional habits. Her relationships with Kyle, an Australian land-mine hunter, and Amanda, an American back-packer who one day appears at the home, is ambiguous to the last. It is the enigma of Amanda - where has she come from, why is she there, who she really is, which provides the main impetus for the story; while the coming of age of her eldest child, Sam, provides another, much gentler imperative.
The back drop of all this is the history of Phnom Penh, in particular Pol Pot's atrocities, and how people comes to terms with such violence is the main theme of the book. Cambodia is sumptuously portrayed: the colours, the bustle of the streets, the traditions, and the pattern of the year, which is accentuated by the chapter heading - beginning in a anomalously cold February, which rapidly leads to the stifling summer months. In fact, the sense of place so vividly evoked that a part of me was convinced I was living there too as I was reading - and it stayed with me when I was forced to put the book down. It was convincing book, and it was a book I am very glad to have read. It has expanded my understanding of the world.
Still reluctant to start my day, I then indulged in another story from Rudyard Kipling's Plain Tales from the Hills called False Dawn. What a fabulously jingoistic writer he was! Displays of emotion are condemned as 'unEnglish', men are supposed to be blindly insensitive to these emotions unless 'they have more of the woman than the man in their composition', and when such emotions are evoked in the dialogue of one of the characters this is not repeated by the narrator 'because she was utterly unstrung'. The setting, British colonial India, is essential to the plot, just as much as present day Cambodia was essential to 'A Clash of Innocents.
The story itself is hilarious: a pair of sisters, the elder one generally agreed to be 'nicer' and more desirable by the narrator, is pursued by a newcomer, the narrator's friend. A party including all four is trapped by a sandstorm at night and they can barely see each other. In the confusion, the newcomer proposes to the 'wrong' sister. He then instructs the narrator to chase after the other one - which turns out to be the younger undesirable one - apparently this was the one the newcomer was after all along. The narrator then explains the mistake to this younger sister and insists that she comes back to join the rest; but then the newcomer rides back with his mistake - presumably social mores dictate he is just going to have to live with it.
I am finding that reading these stories that wrote for adults very entertaining - as well as opening a window on the past.