Waiting for the Monsoon by Threes Anna
There are few things that I find as pleasurable as the discovery of an author new to me who has written an excellent novel. Waiting for the Monsoon by Threes Anna, listed in a publishers catalogue, seemed to be a book I might like to read. I never know, when I pick up a book by an unknown author, what I am going to get – when it is an exceptional story, told by a skillful writer it is a thrill. Waiting for the Monsoon is a book I regretted setting down, wishing I could read through the night until I finished –wishing, at the same time, that this book would not come to an end.
We meet our heroine, Charlotte Bridgewater, in 1995. She is cutting her grass with an ancient mower – early in the morning so that no one will see that she must cut her own grass. Charlotte was born in India, and except for the years of boarding school in England, she has lived in India all of her life. Now, a few years past middle age, she lives in much reduced circumstances in the house where she was born.
I was struck by what it must be like, to live in the house where you grew up. For Charlotte it is where she watched her parents dress for the balls and parties that they attended, her father a military officer in his dress uniform, and her mother, a beauty, on his arm, in her gown and gloves. Major Bridgewater is a stern – and sometimes cruel - father to Charlotte and her younger brother, Donald. Boarding school in England, lonely as it was, saved the children for some years from the crippling influence of their father. Charlotte wanted nothing more than to return to India, and her home, but was not able to do so until the end of the Second World War. A short and miserable marriage followed, and then she found herself back in her childhood home, caring for the estate, and her father.
The novel goes forward through the year, as everyone suffers in the heat, waiting for the relief of the monsoon. At the same time, we re-visit Charlotte’s childhood, and the years of her marriage – as well as the war years, and the experiences of both her father and her husband while prisoners of war in Burma. Into this mix comes a tailor – a young man whose background is slowly revealed to the reader and to Charlotte. This man brings confusion and promise into the lives of Charlotte and the women in her circle. It takes a very skillful writer to weave so many story lines and time lines into a seamless narrative, never losing the central thread of the novel – the past, present and future of Charlotte Bridgewater.
I believe this is the first novel by Threes Anna, a Dutch writer and film-maker, to be translated into English – and congratulations to the Canadian publisher, House of Anansi, for choosing this one for translation and publication – it will be a success I am sure. I did not want to leave the world created by Threes Anna, or her characters, whose lives I shared for several days, as I read Waiting for the Monsoon – and neither will you.