Review published on January 7, 2018.
I am a great reader of travelogues, enjoy a lot of biographies and am always willing to read an historical investigation. This book managed to tick all those boxes as well as those of personal odyssey and quirky love story so I was fairly certain I was onto a winner.
Jenny Balfour-Paul is the author of two books about indigo and has travelled widely and adventurously since she was a student. It was her interest in indigo which put her on the trail of Victorian traveller, Thomas Machell and opened the door to a series of remarkable journeys and coincidences.
Jenny follows Thomas from his childhood home in Yorkshire, to the ancestral pile in the Lakes, onto Polynesia and, most memorably, India. She chases him though diaries, drawings, boxes hidden in attics and dreams. It soon becomes clear that the author has become obsessed with her subject and is identifying with him quite intensely. At times the story veers into the spiritual and more sceptical readers may not be prepared to follow Jenny unquestioningly.
The book weaves Thomas’s own descriptions and journals with Jenny’s own writing so much so that it is almost co-authored. Thomas is rescued from obscurity and given back his voice in a way which is frequently quite moving. Life in India at the time of the Raj is re-created, as is the atmosphere of a Victorian vicarage and the ghosts of an abandoned mansion.
I read the book quite slowly but never wanted to put it aside and was pulled into Jenny’s pilgrimage to find Thomas in the mists of the past. Sometimes the coincidences and the network of helpful friends seemed almost too convenient but overall I was a willing traveller on the journey. The picture of Jenny’s marriage to the ever-patient Glencairn was also a quiet joy of the book.
I may well seek out the author’s volumes on Indigo now.
Rebecca Kershaw 4/4
Deeper than Indigo by Jenny Balfour-Paul
Medina Publishing Ltd 9781909339569 pbk May 2017
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