Click Here To Purchase Miss Timmins' School for Girls: A Novel

Author: Nayana Currimbhoy

Publisher: Harper
ISBN: 978-0-06-199774-7

‘Jane Eyre’ meets ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’  with a dash of the Chalet School  thrown in, in Nayana Currimbhoy’s deftly plotted debut, a mystery set in an Indian  girls’ boarding school in the swinging 70s.

It is 1974 and for twenty year old  Charulata Apte, her appointment as teacher at a stuffy boarding school for privileged Indian girls is her first step away from the conservative life she has led thus far. As the youngest teacher in the school , located in remote Panchgani and still pretending to be part of the British Empire (complete with awful food, racially segregated dinner halls, bitter middle aged spinsters  and an obsession with Scottish dancing ) , Charu  finds herself isolated at first. It doesn’t help that the crosses she bears include a small town education, a  vernacular accent, an unsophisticated wardrobe and a blemish on her face (‘the blot’) that she is always conscious of. Yet, like that indomitable Bronte heroine,  she gradually makes her presence felt among the staff and students as
a gifted teacher, makes friends among the locals, discovers the joys of pot and alcohol, and delights in slowly reinventing herself outside of the sheltered life of her parents’ home. But where there is a Jane, there must surely be a Rochester and, sure enough, in breezes Moira Prince, firebrand sports teacher and resident bad girl, to sweep a stunned, but eager, Charu off her feet. 

Everything changes when Prince is found dead, after a stormy night out on Panchgani’s famed plateau, the table –land.  Everyone seems guilty – the trio of schoolgirls  breaking curfew rules, the formidable principal Ms. Nelson, even Charu herself.  Other suspects gradually emerge – batty old Hindi teachers,  sinister gardeners, even Prince’s friend, the enigmatic Merch . Wracked with guilt over the fight she has had with Prince prior to the death, Charu flees Panchagani for the claustrophobic confines of her mother’s family home. But more trouble awaits, as old scandals surface and Charu slowly discovers the truth about her father, herself and her growing love for Merch.  Meanwhile, a group of her students, caught up in the fervor of reading one Agatha Christie mystery too many, decide to solve the mystery of Prince’s murder themselves, only to set in motion still more intrigue and danger.

 Miss Timmins..  is lots of things – a story about love and its irrevocable loss, a bildungsroman , a psychological thriller as spooky as Peter Weir’s celluloid classic, and every bit as bewildering. That it manages, despite being a debut novel, to weave all these threads into one skilful narrative, speaks volumes for the author’s skills.  She gives us some memorable characters  here, each layered and complex.  Currimbhoy  is especially good at capturing atmosphere  – the rain drenched vistas of  desolate Panchgani, the stifling pre monsoon heat of Indore, the increasing malevolence around Charu as she steps away from innocence and into the web of longing, lies and guilt that marks her  transition into  adulthood. 

What it is not is a conventionally structured mystery, with a trajectory that promises to carry you from the confusion of clues and suspects to the order of  well defined closure and confession.  If you like your mysteries neatly solved, your finales rosily lit, and your characters headed for a happy redemption, this is a book that is sure to frustrate. For everyone else, Currimbhoy writes a winner. 

Click Here To Purchase Miss Timmins' School for Girls: A Novel