Review: “Eden Gardens” by Louise Brown

Usually my holidays are all about reading but I was all about the writing in my free time on my recent Perth holiday. I only packed one book to read – the new release from Louise Brown, Eden Gardens – and it turned out to be the perfect holiday read for me. Poor organisation (yup, that would be me who decided to fly out on January 1st because it was cheaper) meant that both my phone and iPad needed charging at the airport and so I tucked into this novel before I was even on the plane!

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The story focuses on the stories of Maisy, her mother (a “fallen woman”) and their ayah, Pushpa. Louise Brown does a fantastic job at showing the breadth of experiences in colonial India in the 1940s, from the “jute wallah” traditional colonial experience of Gordon MacBrayne to the freedom fighting of Sunil Banjaree and, of course, Maisy’s own experience as a Calcutta-born Englishwoman who is more at home eating street food in the bazaar than in the streets of the “home country”.  It tells the story of love and lust, war and freedom, all played out against the background of a British India vividly created in description by the author.

One of the things that I loved about this story was the lack of predictability in the plot. It’s not necessarily a negative if you’re able to guess what happens next in a novel but I really liked the fact that the author kept on surprising me with what happened next. I also loved the imperfection of Maisy’s character, showing that even strong women (and I do believe that for all her choices, she was a strong woman) buckle and break sometimes.

I wouldn’t class this as a traditional holiday read – it definitely isn’t light and fluffy. Themes of racial and class segregation and gender inequality run strong throughout the text and it engages the reader to actually think about these issues and draw their own conclusions. If you love stories where the hero or heroine is imperfect, novels about culture and with a message that makes you think, this is a read for you.

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