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31.8.05

Staying On - Paul Scott

This outstanding novel is a superb read as a stand-alone Booker winner (1978) and it was as this I first read it but I have re read it as a sequel to Paul Scott's outstanding Raj Quartet (The Jewel in the Crown), which I have just completed. Re visiting albeit in hearsay main characters from the Raj Quartet was quite wonderful, how the author blends the old characters in , introducing them so that even if one hasn't read the Raj Quartet you can easily follow the story . His theme in this book is again India but this time in the 1970's from the perspective of a retired Colonel "Tusker" Smalley and his long-suffering wife Lucy. These characters made half paragraph appearances in the Raj Quartets third book "The Towers of Silence". When I read their names there I was astonished at how perfectly Paul Scott was able to weave a completely new story. Full of wit and pathos it takes in several new characters both Indian and British in the small hill station (Pankot- scene of much of the Raj Quartet storylines) largely forgotten after the end of the British Empire. Street scenes and areas used in the Raj Quartet (even the evocative "Rose Cottage" much used in the Third of the Quartet) reappear one last time to beautiful effect.

Opening in the hill station with the death of the Colonel the story is told in flashback - the long suffering Wife of the Colonel, a man who has served all his life in the Indian army but didn't go home after Indian Independence hence the title "Staying On". Their manservant and bearer Ibrahim a proud man who has seen the Raj in action and now sees how India has changed, the comic observations he makes of the irascible Colonel and the various Indian doctors and officials are genuinely hilarious yet told with great understatement. There is the grotesque yet powerful Indian wife and henpecked husband running the next-door hotel, a hotel far past its best and crumbling. Add to this an overgrown garden and a conspiracy with a young gardener to tend it and the story takes off on its own. A simple story often told in flashback it's really superb how Paul Scott brings the story together yet never forgets this can be read as a stand alone novel - I read it as such the first time and was stunned then by the quality of the writing and storyline.

Each character goes over their lives and we see by what means they ended up in the mountains forgotten in time, often in comic storylines but often quite sad and touching, lost lives, wasted youth and unfulfilled dreams. Moving away from the oft used Imperial storylines the novel shows how the world turns round and things usually end up reversed to where peoples expectations are. Beautifully written and paced yet evocative, this is an appealing novel well worth the time as a stand alone novel but as a final closing chapter on the Raj Quartet it is outstanding in every respect.. I loved this book and I shall miss the characters I have grown to like over the last five books I have read by Paul Scott - sadly Paul Scott died in 1978 but the Raj Quartet and the final closing chapter - Staying On are surely fit memorials to this superb writer.

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