Staying On by Paul Scott
I went to a marvelous English Literature course run by Anne Scott, lecturer at Glasgow University, Scotland. At the end, one of the other students, who was moving house, was giving away some of her books. Just what I needed – more books! I could not resist, and this was one of the books I chose. I had read The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott many years ago, so when I saw his book Staying On, I thought I would enjoy it. I was right.
Paul Scott was born in London, England in 1920. He died in 1978. Scott served in the British Army during mainly in India and Malaya during World War II from 1940 to 1946. This book, Staying On, won the Booker Prize in 1977. It is both hilarious and touching. It deals with the end of an Empire and the end of a forty year love affair. I really enjoyed this book. I cannot imagine anybody not enjoying it: the novel is so beautifully written and the characters so beautifully drawn.
The novel tells the story of Tusker and Lucy Smalley who stayed on in India when most of the British left the country and returned to the UK. Tusker had been a Colonel in the British Army but has now retired. He was given an opportunity to return home to the UK, however, he and his wife chose to stay in India living in the small hill town of Pankot. They are the only permanent British residents left in the village. Their financial position allows them to live more comfortably in India than they would in the UK.
The book begins and ends with Tusker’s death. During the story the reader watches his health deteriorate and comes to understand the life Tusker and Lucy value despite, or maybe because of the many eccentric inhabitants of the town. Tusker’s health and the tyranny of their landlady, Mrs Bhoolabhoy, albeit as softened by her long suffering husband, are the only things that threatens to upset their quiet, predictable lives. Lucy does consider what the future might hold for her in India if she were widowed.
The story is not always pleasant but the story moves from funny to upsetting. I enjoyed the book very much and now plan to re-read The Raj Quartet. I highly recommend Staying On.