Thursday, 19 May 2016

Jadoo, a Tale by Nathaniel Newnham-Davis (1898)

Nathaniel Newnham-Davis, a soldier and food critic, may have written from his experience when he wrote Jadoo as he served in the locales described in the book. Sadly he doesn't seem to have cared to go much outside of the circle of fellow British expatriates if that was the case and is reflected in his writing.

Jadoo starts out very promisingly. With a terrible heatwave gripping the Indian country side and a mad dash, all too late for the sake of one of a pair of street urchins, to put a stop to a human sacrifice which seems to bring an end to the dry season. Unfortunately after two chapters, all interesting things largely stop happening as we descend into the purgatory that is the life and petty enjoyments of British Colonial administrative in the British Raj. The wonders and charms of mystical India are almost wholly ignored and instead the novel is an endless parade of dances, picknicks, balls, plays and the wholly uninteresting exploits of Colonial belladonnas. Dita, the main character, occasionally shows up and though we are told she is suffering from living with a cruel husband we honestly barely focus on it at all. Every seventy pages or so the Fakir who sacrficed her brother to Kali and keeps telling her to "fullfil her purpose" shows up to remind us that he still exists and then we're back to wandering around Simla.

The novel does end with the degradation and death of the main character and her rebuked, ruined lover, but this comes at the very tail end of so much claptrap that I can't honestly recommend it. The idea of the woman being stalked by the ghost of the husband she more or less let drown to be free of him is little more then hinted at and does seem to be the result of nerves and opium abuse. I can honestly not recommend it, I found myself finishing the book more out of obligation than anything.

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