‘When a mother sees her twins in danger, which one will she save?’
The Himalayan Summer is the latest novel by author Louise Brown.
Published by Headline Review (March 2017), The Himalayan Summer is described as ‘a heart-wrenching, compelling novel of a mother’s search for her son, and a love that stands the test of time and circumstance.’
Set in the 1930’s with the stunning back-drop of Darjeeling and Nepal, I was very intrigued to see if I would be transported back to a very different time and era.
Please read on to find out if I was….
Ellie knew her husband Francis was a drunk when she married him, but he is the father of her beloved twins, her two little angels, and she won’t let him wash their inheritance away. When she meets charismatic explorer Hugh, she can’t help being drawn to him, but knows Francis doesn’t approve.
Months later, Ellie and the family set out for the remote Kingdom of Nepal. Within a day of their arrival in Kathmandu, an earthquake devastates the valley, and as the buildings collapse around them, Ellie is forced to make a terrible decision: she has time t save only one of her children. But when she returns to collect her son’s body, it has disappeared…
The Himalayan Summer is a book with one of those covers that just grabs you and pulls you right in. The landscape portrayed is a suggestion of what to expect when you turn the pages.
The book opens in San Francisco, April 1906. The earthquake that would destroy so much and cause such devastation tears apart Ellie Jeffrey’s home, taking the life of her young brother, Bobby, and leaving Ellie with a permanent ache in her heart.
1933 and Ellie is now in Darjeeling, having married Lord Francis Northwood in a whirlwind romance. Knowing he was a drinking man, Ellie was completely unaware of the overbearing and controlling nature of Francis. ‘She’d been swept along on a tide of wine and champagne…she hadn’t obeyed her own usually solid judgement.’
After the birth of her two children, twins Tom and Lizzie, Ellie’s heart is so full of love for them that she is willing to put up with her feelings of disgust toward her husband. He is the father of her children and therefore it is her duty to remain his wife. Francis has very high notions of himself as the next great white hunter and likes nothing better than to spin a story at the club after copious amounts of alcohol. His need to be noticed is funded by Ellie’s inheritance and even though he makes many attempts to journey further into the jungle without her, Ellie insists that where he goes, she goes.
Accompanying Ellie with the children is the very well portrayed character of Nanny Barker. Poor old Nanny Barker suffers greatly from the Indian climate. Her wish is to return to the cool, fresh English weather but her place is with Lord Northwood as she has been in the employment of his family for many years and knows no other life. ‘She should have been pushing the grand Silver Cross perambulator around Kensington Gardens, basking in the respect of lesser nannies whose children were not aristocrats.’
A chance meeting, at a party, with maverick explorer Hugh Douglas, opens up Ellie’s eyes to a different world, a different life but an unobtainable one…one that is beyond her reach.
As their journey of exploration continues, the family leave the relative comforts of Darjeeling and move onward to The Kingdom of Nepal, where the beauty of the region takes Ellie’s breath away. The views, the people, the colours, the climate all assail the senses for Ellie and immediately she is drawn to the wonders of the region.
But that’s where the happiness ends for Ellie. Ensconced in the palace of a Maharaja, Ellie soon feels claustrophobic by the opulence of it all. ‘It wasn’t what she’d imagined; they were staying in a Nepali copy of the Palace of Versailles’.
After settling in to their new accommodation, she decides to make a trip into Kathmandu in order to get a closer look at it’s natural beauty .
With the twins and Nanny Barker by her side, Ellie soon finds herself in the middle of a living nightmare, as an earthquake hits the region. In a split decision Ellie has only the time to grab one child to safety and this is Lizzie. As soon as she is able, she returns to the exact spot only to discover that there is no trace of Tom, his body has disappeared.
Ellie’s world comes crashing down again for the second time in her life. First her brother Bobby, forever lost to her in death, after the San Francisco earthquake and now her son, Tom, missing. Ellie is unwilling to accept this. Francis loses himself even more in the debauched lifestyle that he lives, with some rather unsavory characters by his side. Francis really has no redeeming features to speak of. He is, what would be termed, a leech who prevails on others.
Ellie makes a plan and with the unexpected appearance of Hugh Douglas, she sets off on a mission to find out what happened to Tom. Her journey takes her through regions and borders with very tough roads to pass but unwavering in her quest Ellie will stop at nothing or for no-one.
Louise Brown has written a book about the strength of a mother’s love and the bond she has for her children. The setting is wonderful with descriptions that just come to life on the pages.
In places I did grapple with some of the language used, which, I felt, was unexpectedly quite crude for the style of the book. Also the likelihood of the main character living through two such catastrophic seismic events is in reality highly unlikely. But these are just very personal quibbles that others may think nothing of, so do please read the book and make your own judgement on this. It is after all a book of fiction, a place where we leave reality behind us and just jump in.
The Himalayan Summer is a very picturesque novel, with very vivid descriptions and smells evoking the time and place of the British Raj. An enjoyable Summer read to awaken the senses.
Purchase Link ~ The Himalayan Summer
Louise Brown has lived in Nepal and travelled extensively in India, sparking her enduring love of South Asia. She was a Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Asian Studies at the University of Birmingham, where she worked for nearly twenty years. In research for her critically acclaimed non-fiction books she’s witnessed revolutions and even stayed in a Lahore brothel with a family of traditional courtesans.
Louise has three grown-up children and lives in Birmingham.
(Image & bio courtesy of Headline Publishers)