I'm still trying to catch up on book reviews for books I've read in the past few weeks. When I was sick and planning on traveling a few weeks ago, I wanted to bring along books that would be comfortable - not too difficult, but not mindless either. I choose The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar and The Chimney Sweeper's Boy by Barbara Vine. Though these selections seemed very different I did find a common theme between them - that of women unhappily married due to physical or emotional abuse.
Set in Bombay/Mumbai, The Space Between Us is the story of two women, Sera the mistress, and Bhima, her maid for many years. Despite their very different lives, these women know each other better than probably anyone else due to their close proximity and long relationship, but because of their different social status, Bhima may not sit on the furniture or eat off of the dishes in Sera's home. The book details the many obstacles the women have dealt with over the years, the support they have received from the other and particularly the times Sera and her husband helped the illiterate Bhima with legal and personal issues. The supporting cast includes Bhima's granddaughter Maya, a promising young women who Sera is helping to educate. The climax of the book is a situation that arises which tests the women's loyalties to one another. I really, really enjoyed reading this book. I loved the setting and learning about modern life in India. I enjoyed the fact that many of the situations wouldn't happen in our modern society and becoming aware of how they would be dealt with, positively and negatively. The only issue I have with the book is the ending. There was a long build up leading to the inevitable climax which happened very abruptly. This left only the final chapter of the book which I found a bit unsatisfying.
Barbara Vine's The Chimney Sweeper's Boy was a nice contrast to the above in both setting and tone. Set in modern England, this is the story of writer Gerald Candless and his family including two adoring daughters. When one of his daughters begins researching a book about his life she discovers a terrible truth that no one in the family has ever suspected. I found this book quite different from the other Vine novels I have read. It does not have the same suspenseful pacing I have become accustomed to. I found this book to be much more a literary novel that happened to have suspense within it, rather that a true mystery/suspense novel. I suspect that is why I came across some negative reviews for this book - readers simply didn't get what they were expecting. I did enjoy the book and think Vine an excellent writer. I have found her books perfect reading material for traveling or when I am sick. I really find them to be absorbing.