As we return from lunch at the Indian buffet (yum!), the conversation about Nayana Currimbhoy’s Miss Timmins’ School for Girls continues. And Alex madly tries to finish reading the last few pages so she can join in. Up for discussion, of course, whodunit, as well as the structure of the book, what we particularly liked about Currimbhoy’s writing and would we read another book by her again…
Stacy: Hello there, ladies!
Laurie: Hello there! So Part 3 of Miss Timmins…
Stacy: Yes! Alex, I have to know: what prompted that outburst of “WHAT?” when we were walking back?
Alex: I was incredulous that they thought it was Raswani. I could not believe it!
Laurie: Did you think it was someone else? And if so who?
Alex: I still thought it could be Charu at that point. Never little old Raswani!
Alex: Yeah, I thought there was going to be a big reveal.
Stacy: I’m so the opposite. Every time the girls had a new suspect, I was like “Oh, I see how that could have happened!” Not with Charu, though.
Stacy: I know – or I like to think of it as a mystery author’s favourite type of reader.
Laurie: I never actually thought it was Charu, although quite frankly I, like Stacy, thought it could pretty much be anyone else. Except maybe Merch…
Alex: They were framing Merch pretty heavily at the end.
Laurie: I read tons of mysteries and am quite often good at picking out the killer. Not to pat myself on the back or anything., Haha!
Alex: This book was done really well in that respect, picking them all off one by one.
Laurie: It was!
Stacy: I really enjoyed the mystery-solving, I have to say. Usually they’re not my go-to genre (unlike you, Laurie), but this one was so well-done.
Laurie: It was an homage in a way to Agatha Christie, but much better character development, so better writing in that sense.
Alex: I liked how much culture they weaved into it, all the descriptions of the hair, the oiling and tying it up.
Laurie: Did you both like the way she tied together the coming of age stuff together with the mystery?
Stacy: And how deftly Nayana conveyed the clash of cultures between the English and Indians at the school itself.
Alex: They learned about themselves while they learned about the mystery.
Laurie: Charu became a woman in one way and stronger, when she cut off her hair – rather the opposite of Samson and Delilah.
Stacy: Yes, exactly, Laurie. It was such a dramatic moment.
Laurie: Such defiance.
Stacy: But also kind of inevitable, maybe?
Alex: And left it there as a sign.
Stacy: I loved that part.
Laurie: Yes, sad really, but necessary in some ways.
Alex: That she was actively becoming liberated.
Stacy: Finally, she had become the Charu that we first met in the prologue.
Laurie: Leaving her childhood, her mother, those ties and bounds behind.
Stacy: Very poignant.
Alex: Indeed. And her becoming a mother herself.
Laurie: Yes! My only fault with the whole structure is that the murder took so long to happen. Did you think that? It made it feel a bit disjointed to me: The two parts of the whole, the coming of age and the murder.
Alex: Yeah, it did in a way.
Stacy: I didn’t really mind it. I felt like the build-up was sufficiently mysterious that I didn’t need the actual murder to happen right away, but then I really like lots of back story.
Alex: And at times it felt like it was taking a long time to unravel, especially when it was being told by the child detectives.
Laurie: Maybe a stronger editor was needed. But I loved, loved the children. And the writing as a whole: the voices, the touches of humour, the evocative setting and descriptions.
Stacy: I think that was so realistic — exactly how sheltered schoolgirls would investigate a murder. The writing was really, really good. I agree with you 100 percent on that point.
Laurie: Yes, and yet so wise in some ways for their ages and yet so naive at the same time.
Alex: The Table Land and things. Going back to those places time and time again really made them feel like I knew them.
Stacy: I felt like the characters were real people whom I could conceivably run into, had I lived in India in the 1970s.
Laurie: It makes me want to go there.
Alex: Absolutely! For a stroll on a dark monsoon night?
Stacy: Haha. Maybe not Alex. It’s kind of dangerous on those types of nights. But busy!
Laurie: For sure! I kept hearing their voices! And of course picturing Stacy as Nandita!
Alex: Hehe. Who would you be Laurie? I’m Charu.
Laurie: I’d only be out on the Table Land if you two were along! I don’t know; I’m not sure I’m any of them. Merch maybe, haha! (Even though you think so badly of him!) Because even though he’s a man, and, well, I’m obviously not, he’s a loner in many ways, and not into commitment!
Alex: Haha. I don’t dislike him anymore.
Stacy: True, true! Alex has to think poorly of him, look at how he treated “her”.
Alex: But now he confessed his love for her. I don’t think he really believed he could ever have her.
Stacy: I thought that whole relationship between them was so interesting.
Laurie: But still sad. And he loved her right from the beginning. And was such a good friend to Prince. He had his pluses.
Stacy: At first I thought he was secretly in love with Prince, but then I realized it was more about Charu, and that cast everything from earlier in the book in a totally different light. And then to see how they ended up? So heartbreaking.
Alex: I loved that she was an imperfect heroine, and he couldn’t have been perfect either. That wasn’t the story.
Laurie: They were all imperfect. Even the little girls. Everyone. So like life.
Stacy: And he widened her scope of experience, too – with the drugs, but also with books, music and movies.
Alex: They helped each other grow.
Laurie: She in some ways expected too much of him.
Stacy: I think that was her innocence, thinking that he could/would be able to give so much of himself to her, and behave so, well, perfectly.
Laurie: Definitely. Raswani was an interesting character.
Alex: Poor Raswani.
Stacy: What do you think the deal was with her not being able to handle money?
Laurie: And what was up with the letter and her giving it to Nandita then running away?
Stacy: And how her life before Miss Timmins was such a mystery? As if Miss Nelson was the only thing giving her life purpose.
Alex: Maybe she never lived outside of a school.
Laurie: And her hatred of everyone, it seemed.
Stacy: I think that was self-hatred, turned outwards.
Laurie: And what about Sister Richard telling that story about the man who finds his wife with her lover and kills them! What?? Tells little girls! After a murder! Another crazy drunk lady!
Alex: That was also skirted over somewhat. And the weird kid living in a cave.
Stacy: That was hilarious. Like, worst teacher ever.
Laurie: We must have had teachers like that and just erased them from our memories…post-traumatic stress disorder.
Stacy: Drunks and fearmongers?! Haha, that’s the only explanation.
Alex: I don’t know if any of my teachers were quite that bad.
Laurie: But don’t you see: you’ve forgotten them!
Alex: Yeah, that’s it, I’ve blocked them out. Maybe that was the real story: the teachers had been sent there in exile.
Laurie: Yes. Like Australia and the criminals!
Stacy: Oooh. Alex, that’s such a good one. Miss Timmins’ Boarding School for Girls is also Miss Timmins’ Rehabilitation Centre for Horrible Adults!
Alex: Exactly! I can picture a couple of my teachers there. In their polyester skirts that were wider at the waist than at the hem, with dandruff-flecked hair wound into a greasy bun.
Laurie: We must ask Nayana about her teachers!
Stacy: Yes! Good idea.
Laurie: Poor teachers.
Alex: I wonder what kind of school she went to?
Laurie: What were their lives like? What were their backgrounds?
Alex: Absolutely. It’s funny, teachers are adults put on the ultimate pedestal.
Laurie: So, all in all, a fab book? Great writing? Any cons?
Alex: Just took a little while to hook me in.
Stacy: Definitely fab, definitely great writing.
Alex: I loved the schoolgirls but the plot line was a little slow in places.
Stacy: I was hooked right away, but I was really thrown off by meeting adult Charu and then going back in time. Took a while to wrap my head around that one.
Laurie: I actually thought she was a ghost in the prologue. You know, third murder, lol!
Stacy: I was trying to figure out what it was! I couldn’t tell if it was the future, or something a bit more supernatural.
Alex: I thought there was room for more murders, or lust, of course.
Stacy: More of both would be ideal.
Alex: I loved the steamy sex scenes, and I found myself drawn into each.
Stacy: Lol. There were lots of those for you this time around! Hopefully the trend continues in book # 3…
Alex: I was happy. They were also challenging because they were steeped in emotion but were less conventional.
Laurie: I thought because it was sort of a closed environment, it would be like Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None: murder after murder. I would definitely read her next book.
Stacy: Me, too.
Alex: Oh me, too. I like her a lot. And I felt like I learned something or went somewhere.
Laurie: Love that experience when you read a book!
Alex: It’s like tourism.
Stacy: Yes! On a budget.
Laurie: Armchair tourist!
Laurie: Well, till next time ladies, and the next book!
Alex: Send it my way!