Review: The Far Cry; Emma Smith

I am a little bit in love with this book (4 stars)

Source- personal copy

Published by Penguin- 1952

Paperback edition- 206 pages

Last year at the amazing Barter Books in Northumberland and at a second hand book shop in Alnwick, I picked up a big stack of orange Penguin Classics for some pretty reasonable prices. That was what I have dubbed our ‘Penguin’ holiday, as I added to my already fledgling Penguin Classics collection exponentially.

A lot of authors I picked up, I’d heard of though not necessarily read (there were some Hemingway’s, Wyndham’s and Maugham’s in amongst the set that I have since got around to), but some books I chose because I merely liked the name of them or the sound of the storyline. The Far Cry was one such example; I had never heard of the author, but I love books about journeys to other countries; sometimes those that were written decades ago offer an interesting perspective in comparison to some more modern texts, albeit the attitudes and perceptions in them can admittedly be a tad archaic. I have since found out that this little gem of a book has been republished by Persephone, so I personally feel very lucky to have such an old copy as part of my own collection. It’s older than my parents!

14-year-old Teresa Digby has been brought up by her aunt in the English countryside, a rather cold and standoffish lady who has never shown her niece much love. Teresa’s father too, has spent most of the time merely on the peripheries of his only daughter’s life, until Teresa’s estranged mother suggests that it might be time for her to reunite with her child once more. Affronted and determined to spite his ex-wife, Mr Digby decides that the best course of action for him is to whisk Teresa away to India, where his eldest daughter Ruth resides with her husband on a tea plantation. The Far Cry chronicles Teresa and her fathers long voyage and the events that take place once they arrive in a country that is far different than what either of them anticipated.

I have read a few novels set in India, though I have to say that in terms of evocative descriptions, this is one of the most vivid I have yet encountered. The author herself spent time in India prior to writing this book and her passion for the country shines through in her excellent attention to detail. As a reader, I felt the brutal heat, the vibrant hustle and bustle of the markets and the noisy clattering of the railway train as Teresa and her father wended their way through the country. It was quite remarkable in places. If you are looking for a great indication of sensory writing, then this is an excellent example.

I appreciated the characters in this book too; the reader is given a deep insight into their thoughts and emotions. Teresa for example, appears sullen and sulky, pretty unlikeable from the outset of the story in fact- until she arrives in India. After her initial shock at the cultural differences, it is almost like she is reborn and the country has a massive impact on her. She is no longer an outsider and becomes a completely different person, showing herself for the intelligent and insightful young girl that she is and embracing the newness on offer. This was wonderful to read about as I enjoy reading about characters that drastically (though believably) change throughout the course of a story. By comparison, her father was such a person of contrasts; he could be boorish and embarrassing, but then at times I found myself feeling sorry for him. He has eldest daughter Ruth placed on a pedestal, yet when they encounter one another again, it is clear that Ruth is also a very unhappy individual. All of these melancholy characters could have made this story quite depressing, yet seen through Teresa’s eyes, The Far Cry becomes something else entirely. I found it to be quite an uplifting novel.

That’s not to say that this book is without its faults; a great portion of the book focuses on the passage out to India on the ship, whereby Teresa and her father spend what feels like forever playing cards together. I found this aspect quite repetitive. Again, when they board a train once they arrive in India, this is another similar facet; I kept waiting for something-anything-to happen during these parts of the story.

Though this novel is certainly more character-led than driven by any exciting type of plot, for me there was something inherently charming about it. I was fascinated by the way that 1940’s India was brought to life within its pages; it is a real technicolor look at a truly fascinating country. Curling up with this novel, in my back garden on a hot summer’s day, I fell just a little bit in love with it.

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