Review Blog

Oct 06 2010

India dark by Kirsty Murray

cover image

Allen and Unwin, 2010. ISBN 978174175858580
(Age 14+) Recommended. Historical novel. It is the year 1910 and 13 year old Poesy Swift's mother is determined, even in the face of opposition from her grandmother, to have her daughter leave school and work in the jam factory or the match factory. Poesy is thrilled when she meets Tilly Sweetrick who persuades her to audition for a place in the Lilliputian Opera Company. It is a wonderful way to leave the family that she finds so oppressive, while helping out with some money for her mother. However Poesy's dreams of sailing to America don't eventuate as the troupe goes to SouthEast Asia and finally on to India, where she is faced with a nightmare of abuse, lies and broken friendships.
Based on a true story, Kirsty Murray has opened up an amazing portion of history that will thrill readers who love historical fiction. The idea of children as young as seven joining a performing troupe without proper supervision is mind boggling for people today who are used to children being protected and at school until they are 18. Murray vividly describes the long sea trip, the dangers of cholera and the men who wait at the stage doors for the girls. The way Mr Arthur Percival treats the children, his harsh discipline and the affair he has with one of the older girls is quite disturbing.
The tale is told from two viewpoints, that of Poesy, tiny and innocent and Tilly, who has been in the troupe and is world-weary. Often the viewpoints differ and Murray challenges the reader to work out what is the truth, if indeed there is an absolute truth about the events that led all but two of the children in the troupe going on strike against Percival in Madras and leaving the show. In the Author's Note, Murray states 'as Poesy says, there was more to the story than one person could ever tell.'
This is a masterful expose of a strange and painful court case. Murray's deft descriptions and wonderful characterisations brought the historical period alive for me and left me thinking about the power of truth, lies, loyalty, friendship and gossip.
Pat Pledger

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