I have always been in awe of Oxford and Cambridge as they are home to universities that define the pinnacle of academic success. To have one of these University ‘towns’ depicted in a book by an Indian author was extremely inviting especially during my first year of having moved to the UK as a University student.
Saumya Balsari’s depiction of Cambridge is vivid in imagery and the opening line of the book, “The sly October wind tore through Cambridge, boldly lifting the prim skirt of the Junior Bursar as her court shoes, indignant at a male colleague’s promotion, clicked briskly through a college archway to meet the waiting porters and bedmakers” is evidence enough.
The book revolves around a charity shop called India Need located on a popular street in Cambridge called Mill Road. The characters consist of three South Asian women with their unique personalities and an Irish lady, all of whom work at India Need. The charity shop is owned by an English woman named Lady Di by the staff and she remains elusive throughout the book. Whatever we know of Lady Di is through the perceptions of her staff and I wish I could have seen more of an interaction between her and them! The visitors to the charity shop are quirky in their own way and a couple of them remind you of simpler times and prod you to consider that just maybe, life is a journey and not a race to reach your destination.
Personally, I felt that the book left much to be desired and I say this because I felt let down by the under developed story line and plot. The fact that the characterisation was so strong and the feeling that the plot didn’t do justice to that effort was disappointing. Having said that, I would recommend this book if you want to get a glimpse into Cambridge, the running of a charity shop and most importantly the characters that add colour to this otherwise sober English ‘town’ known for producing scholars and world leaders.