When for trapeze artist Mair finds a beautiful traditional kani shawl hidden in her grandmother’s chest, she longs to know its history, and with it the history of her family. She journeys to India, to Kashmir and the surrounding areas, to learn about the world where the shawl came from. During her stay she meets the mysterious Becker family, whose history, as it soon becomes apparent, is tied up with her own.
Running alongside Mair’s story is that of her grandmother Nerys and her friends Myrtle and Caroline, wives of three very different men living in Srinager during the last years of the Raj. Nerys is a simple missionary’s wife who came out to India to avoid inevitable spinsterhood in the Welsh Valleys back home. When glamorous Myrtle McMinn invades her quiet unassuming life, she realises that her staid and uncomfortable marriage to her good but boring husband isn’t all that life has to offer her.
But it is Caroline’s story that makes the book for me. By showing how conventions within hetero-normative colonial societies dictate the lives of the people, Thomas has managed to turn what could be a vivid but conventional historical romance and family saga into a cry against enforced monogamy. Caroline is trapped by marriage along with her husband – and it is her desperate attempts to break down the bars of her gilded cage that provide the catalyst for the rest of the novel.
The writing is simply wonderful in its descriptions, though some of the dialogue, especially in the romance scenes, is a little clichéd, and parts of the plot dragged. It is an extremely long book treatment, and some characters feel a little flat. However, the feeling of Kashmir and the mountains runs throughout, you can feel the author’s knowledge and love for the place in every paragraph. There are also some great moments of tension and I would have the tissues on standby.
A terrific find for historical romance fans, recommended for a comfortable weekend on the sofa or an enjoyable holiday read.
The Kashmir Shawl is out now, published by Harper, and is available in paperback priced at £7.99.
Recommended for: Fans of Victoria Hislop, Maggie O’Farrell and Julia Gregson