India 1935: Amelia Collins, a missionary’s daughter, left destitute by the death of her parents, leaves their home in the Himalayan foothills to find work in Darjeeling. There she meets District Officer Reginald Holden, a powerful older man, who spirits her away from poverty and prejudice to start a new life as his wife in Ganpur.
Amelia soon forms a bond with Reginald’s young son, Arthur, and resumes missionary work in the villages around Ganpur. There, she discovers a pavilion on a lake where the wives of maharajahs once bathed, now abandoned and cloaked in mystery.
When the Indian independence movement flares in Ganpur and Reginald struggles to contain it, Amelia’s world begins to fall apart as she uncovers the shattering truths he has been keeping from her.
Decades later, when Kate Hamilton inherits a rambling country house from her great aunt Amelia, she returns to the village in Buckinghamshire that she left as a teenager in 1944. Sorting through long-hidden papers, she begins to unearth Amelia’s secrets from her years in British India.
But Kate is harbouring a secret of her own – a devastating betrayal from that last summer of the war. She has lived in the shadow of that day ever since, but Kate is convinced that unlocking the truth about Amelia’s Indian past will hold the key to her own future…
Kate Hamilton is a successful London architect but there is no-one special in her life. As she returns to the village where she spent her early teens, for the funeral of her Great Aunt Amelia, she recalls the summer of 1944 when she and her best friend Joan, cycling round the lanes during their summer holiday, discovered a secret, and everything went wrong. But Kate has inherited Amelia’s house so she must stay there until she has put it up for sale.
Finding private papers belonging to Amelia, Kate discovers a little of her aunt’s previous life in India in 1935. As she meets her aunt’s old friends, we enter Amelia’s world after both her missionary parents died in the Himalayan foothills. Penniless and spurned by the English residents of Darjeeling, she is helped by Reginald Holden, a District Officer from Ganpur. Seeing him as a father figure she is surprised when he asks her to marry him. The fact that he has a young motherless son, convinces her that she has a worthwhile role to play.
Ann Bennett paints a vivid picture of the contrasting worlds in India in the 1930s. While there are protests in the cities by Indians wanting independence, women in the countryside are forced to abandon their girl babies because of economic necessity. Meanwhile the British men enjoy hunting parties, and their wives have idle lives with many servants.
In 1970, Kate has met her old friend, Joan, now a downtrodden housewife with several children, and she is anxious to restore their friendship. Discovering more about Amelia’s tragic life in India, helps Kate to face up to her own actions as a teenager and perhaps to move on to a more fulfilling life in the future. A thought provoking, fascinating time-slip story.
The Lake Pavilion on Amazon UK
My review of The Orphan House by Ann Bennett also set in India and England.