Whatcha Reading? Miss Timmins’ School for Girls by Nayana Currimbhoy

The appeal here seems almost endless for my tastes: a coming of age tale, a school setting with a gaggle of impudent school girls in uniforms, a culture exotic to me but with a stiff-upper-lip British overlay, 70s counterculture experimentation, and for good measure a midnight murder mystery. The book takes place almost entirely in the rain, the monsoon season actually, and that sets the meandering, unsettling tone rather well. Charulata Apte (Charu), the new teacher and barely an adult herself, capers about in the rain as she always has, only to notice that not only the teachers but also the student body is slack-jawed at her free and easy, decidedly un-British approach to life. Charu finds herself at odds on all sides, in her family and the classroom and the staff room and even in town, whose name, Panchgani, for some reason was stuck in my head as Punch and Judy, go figure. And then she meets the Prince. Da da da dum.

What sets her apart, in her mind, and I firmly believe it is more in her mind that everyone else’s, is her blot. What’s that, you say? Her facial discoloration, which arose when she hit puberty, expands and contracts, changes color, and has sensations in response to Charu’s actions and feelings. I feel that the blot should count as a main character, if not actually THE main character. For me the blot blots out so much of what might have been Charu, such that she slinks along through the story as a shadow character. The blot, though, lives. Perhaps the blot will turn out to be the murderer? Not any time soon, but we shall see.

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