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The Wonder House

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In this latest novel from journalist Hardy (Goat: A Story About Kashmir and Notting Hill), Gracie Singh is an aging Englishwoman who has lived among the people of Kashmir for several decades. Her husband and son are long dead, and her family now consists of two servants: a mute woman named Suriya and Suriya's daughter, Lila. Gracie lives on the Wonder House, a large houseboat from which she has dispassionately watched her neighbors struggle with civil war and religious orthodoxy, problems that are threatening their quiet way of life. When an attractive young man from Britain wants to interview Gracie and subsequently falls in love with Lila, life changes for all three women in unexpected ways. While the unique setting and unusual plot twist at the end might in other cases be redemptive, here they fail to compensate for the emotionally detached writing style, bland and predictable characters, and painfully slow pacing. Not recommended.-Kellie Gillespie, City of Mesa Lib., AZ Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

The rising fears and fading aspirations of a Muslim family in Indian-controlled Kashmir come in for observation by outsiders in Hardy's fiction debut, set in 1999-2000-just after the Kargil War and Musharraf's subsequent coup. Gracie Singh is an 80-year-old Englishwoman who has lived in Kashmir since the death of her Indian husband more than 20 years ago. She drifts about in a nostalgic, alcoholic daze on her houseboat, which everyone calls the Wonder House, tended by Lila, a niece of Gracie's landlord and decades-long friend, Masood Abdullah, and by Lila's mother, the mysteriously mute Suriya. The Abdullahs live in fear of both a brutal Indian military and the radicalization of their religion; when Masood's nephew Irfan leaves home to join a militant group, he puts the family in grave danger, a situation exacerbated by the arrival of English journalist Hal Copeman. Hardy chronicled a rising 1990s New Delhi and the always fabulous Bollywood in a pair of nonfiction titles. In her novel she uses too light a touch with history (as pushed through an acerbic Gracie and the Abdullah family exigencies) and too heavy a hand with message (having Hal, for instance, apologize for journalism's limitations). But her scenes are rich with sensual detail, making for vivid impressions. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

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