Book Review: Miss Timmins’ School for Girls – Nayana Currimbhoy

Title: Miss Timmins’ School for Girls
Author: Nayana Currimbhoy
ISBN: 9780061997747
Pages: 512
Release Date: June 21, 2011
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
Genre: Multicultural Fiction, Mystery
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

Charulata Apte is the newest teacher at Miss Timmins’ School for Girls in Panchgani, a remote hill station in India.  Shy, uncertain, and completely sheltered, Charu has always felt insecure because of the blot – a red birthmark that mars her face and has ruined her marriage prospects.  Charu slowly begins to settle in at Miss Timmins and becomes friends with Moira Prince, a fellow teacher who introduces Charu to the many pleasures of life.  As Charu spends more time with Moira, she begins to open up and accept herself as she is.  But when Moira is found dead at the bottom of a cliff, Charu is forced to reevaluate her perceptions as she becomes determined to find out what happened to her friend.

Review:

Miss Timmins’ School for Girls is a book that wears many different hats.  It’s a murder mystery and a portrait of India in the 1970’s, which was dealing with the same hippie, pot-smoking craze that the United States was.  It’s a look inside a girl’s boarding school and a commentary on the caste/class/religious difference that plague India to this day.  But most of all, it’s the coming of age story of Charulata Apte.

Charu captured my heart from the very first page of this novel.  Just twenty years old, Charu is leaving home for the first time, and isn’t sure of herself or anything around her.  All she does know is that she is ugly.  Her perception of herself is centered around the blot and she can’t see past it, so she assumes that no one around her can either.  When Moira, the glamorous rebel, seeks her out, Charu is overwhelmed by her attentions.  Moira leads Charu into a life she never thought possible, one with love and happiness, where people see her for what she is, rather than the marks on her body. 

But Charu is never completely certain of herself, even with Moira’s support.  Her self-doubt threatens to overwhelm her, and it’s only after Moira’s death that Charu begins to see the strength within her.  I absolutely loved this coming-of-age, the tension between Charu’s traditional, Brahmin upbringing and her desire to find love, from whomever is offering it.  After Moira’s death, Charu begins to see herself in an entirely new light.  Through her investigations, she finds a sense of certainty that she wasn’t sure she had.

It was Charu’s openness that I loved, her willingness to accept love in whatever form it took.  Even now, the subject of homosexuality in India is a difficult one.  I appreciated how much Charu learned about herself through her relationship with Moira.  It gave her a place in the world, and a sense of belonging; it wasn’t about being with a woman or with a man, just about love.

The murder mystery in Miss Timmins’ School for Girls is very interesting, but this isn’t the type of novel to keep the reader on tenterhooks as they await the climax of the book.  Instead, the plot unfolds slowly and sensuously as Charu comes into her own.  This is a character-driven novel, rather than one driven forward by plot, and if you come into it expecting an on-the-edge-of-your-seat murder mystery, you may be disappointed.  Instead, if you hope for a character driven book with a mystery twist (as I did), you’ll really enjoy and appreciate it.

I can’t say enough great things about Miss Timmins’ School for Girls.  Currimbhoy is a talented author, and has accomplished a great feat with her first novel.  The characters are memorable, and she really brings India to life with her prose.  I really enjoyed this book; I read it slowly, savoring it, rather than rushing through it, and that was the perfect way to experience it.  It was a beautiful novel, and I know that Miss Charulata Apte will stay with me for a very long time, as she is a woman close to my heart.

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Comments

  1. I just finished this book last night, and I think that it was very different than what I had been expecting. I usually love character studies, bit for some reason, this book just didn’t work for me. There was a lot that I liked about it, but overall, the story ended up falling flat with me. I did really appreciate your review though, it let me see things from another perspective and perhaps helped me understand why this book was so difficult for me.

  2. I just finished this book last night, and I think that it was very different than what I had been expecting. I usually love character studies, bit for some reason, this book just didn’t work for me. There was a lot that I liked about it, but overall, the story ended up falling flat with me. I did really appreciate your review though, it let me see things from another perspective and perhaps helped me understand why this book was so difficult for me.

  3. You know how much I love character-driven novels, so I’ve added this title to my list. Thanks for the recommendation.

    Wonderful review, Swapna!

  4. You know how much I love character-driven novels, so I’ve added this title to my list. Thanks for the recommendation.

    Wonderful review, Swapna!

  5. OH! Oh oh oh oh! This one has been on my TBR list! So glad to see it get such a good review, thanks!

  6. OH! Oh oh oh oh! This one has been on my TBR list! So glad to see it get such a good review, thanks!

  7. A book I would love to read – a mystery set in India, with an interesting personality as the main character. Nice tease.
    My teaser.

  8. A book I would love to read – a mystery set in India, with an interesting personality as the main character. Nice tease.
    My teaser.

  9. So glad you loved my Charu, and saw her so, so clearly.

    Nayana

  10. So glad you loved my Charu, and saw her so, so clearly.

    Nayana

  11. Wow, it sounds like this book has got so much going on, but in a good way. I can’t wait to read it now!!

  12. Wow, it sounds like this book has got so much going on, but in a good way. I can’t wait to read it now!!

  13. Thanks for the review. I now know how to approach this novel. I can’t wait to read it.

  14. Thanks for the review. I now know how to approach this novel. I can’t wait to read it.

  15. I have 60 pages left in this one, and I agree that it is one best read slowly rather than rushed. I find myself dwelling on Charu a lot between reads, in a good way. What is her motivation? What is she going to do next? I am anxious to see how it all works out, but I am enjoying the ride.

  16. I have 60 pages left in this one, and I agree that it is one best read slowly rather than rushed. I find myself dwelling on Charu a lot between reads, in a good way. What is her motivation? What is she going to do next? I am anxious to see how it all works out, but I am enjoying the ride.

  17. How interesting that you and Zibilee had such different takes on the book, as I trust both your opinions. I admit to not LOVING books set in the 70s just because I think the whole drug/sex/hippie experience is often overdone, but sounds like this one strikes a good balance.

  18. How interesting that you and Zibilee had such different takes on the book, as I trust both your opinions. I admit to not LOVING books set in the 70s just because I think the whole drug/sex/hippie experience is often overdone, but sounds like this one strikes a good balance.

  19. I’ve never heard of this book before but it sounds fab! I must add it to my wish list now.

  20. I’ve never heard of this book before but it sounds fab! I must add it to my wish list now.

  21. I just started this one and am enjoying it so far. It’s LONG though! I had no idea it was such a thick book. I’m thinking I’ll enjoy it though. Thanks for an in-depth review!

  22. I just started this one and am enjoying it so far. It’s LONG though! I had no idea it was such a thick book. I’m thinking I’ll enjoy it though. Thanks for an in-depth review!

  23. I so enjoyed this book — like you, I immediately was taken with Charu and her growth as a woman.

  24. I so enjoyed this book — like you, I immediately was taken with Charu and her growth as a woman.

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