First read: 1980
Owned since: 1984 (approximately)
Lest anyone get the idea I'm some kind of intellectual, I want to post regularly about the popular fiction on my shelves. A novel's first mission is to entertain; if it does that, then we can talk about whether it enlightens or instructs or contributes to the progress of humanity. If it doesn't entertain first, how will it have the opportunity to instruct?
M.M. Kaye's THE FAR PAVILIONS was a runaway bestseller, and in its wake, St. Martin's published two of her earlier novels that had never seen print in the United States -- both of which I liked better than THE FAR PAVILIONS, which I found tedious.
While THE FAR PAVILIONS is a novel of the second Anglo-Afghan War, SHADOW OF THE MOON's climax is the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. Its protagonist is Winter de Ballesteros, an Anglo-Spanish orphan born in India and reared in England, who returns to India to marry the dissolute Commissioner of Lunjore. Her escort on that trip is the dashing British Army Captain Alex Randall, who goes on to protect her from enemies foreign and domestic.
I was unaware of the Sepoy Mutiny before I read this book; we didn't cover it in ninth-grade World Cultures. It also introduced me to my favorite melody, "Believe Me if All Those Endearing Young Charms." The song plays a crucial role in an early love scene, and I had never heard it; I got someone to pick it out for me on a piano. I just said yesterday that I love waltzes, and this is still the most beautiful one I know.
The heart that has truly loved never forgets,
But as truly loves on to the close
As the sunflower turns on her god when he sets
The same look which she turned when he rose.
This book is probably unforgivably colonial and melodramatic, but I fell in love with it when I was 13, and I will always read it with 13-year-old eyes. For me, those lyrics apply to books as much as to people; once I decide I love something, I never really get over it. Why would I want to?