The Sunday Times (London) 2020 Novel of the Year
“Luminous…a writer to watch—and to savor.” —Oprah Daily
From the award-winning author of West and The Redemption of Galen Pike, a “sublime” (The Toronto Star) and propulsive novel that follows an Englishman seeking refuge in a remote hill town in India who gets caught in the crossfire of local tensions.
In this “jewel of a novel” (The Observer), Hilary Byrd flees his demons and the dark undercurrents of contemporary life in England for a former British hill station in south India. Charmed by the foreignness of his new surroundings and by the familiarity of everything the British have left behind, he finds solace in life’s simple pleasures, travelling by rickshaw around the small town with his driver Jamshed and staying in a mission house beside the local presbytery where, after a chance meeting, the Padre and his adoptive daughter Priscilla take Hilary under their wing.
The Padre is concerned for Priscilla’s future, and as Hilary’s friendship with the young woman grows, he begins to wonder whether his purpose lies in this new relationship. But religious tensions are brewing and the mission house may not be the safe haven it seems.
A “skillful drama of well-meant misunderstandings and cultural divisions” (The Wall Street Journal), The Mission House boldly and imaginatively explores postcolonial ideas in a world fractured between faith and nonbelief, young and old, imperial past and nationalistic present. Tenderly subversive and meticulously crafted, it is a deeply human story of the wonders and terrors of connection in a modern world.
Davies follows up West with a stunning, understated novel set in a former British hill station in contemporary Tamil Nadu, India. Hilary Byrd, a 51-year-old British former librarian who lost his job following a mental breakdown and rues the "tapping of keyboards and the singing of babies and the hysterical shouting of the drunk and the angry" that came to define the library where he worked, has come to India for a change of scenery. He ends up in the hill town, and upon meeting the Padre, a Christian Indian and the local clergyman, he's invited to stay in Canadian missionary's temporarily vacant bungalow. Byrd, alternately hopeful and despairing, is ferried around by Jamshed, an old rickshaw driver who listens patiently to Byrd's monologues about his own life's wrong turns and his enchantment with the town's "combination of the strange and familiar." Byrd falls in love with the Padre's young housekeeper, Priscilla, while Priscilla is captivated by Jamshed's nephew and his passion for American country music. However, while Byrd putters around obliviously, resentment toward Christians in India grows alongside Hindu nationalism, and the affable Padre and Priscilla find themselves threatened, a situation that involves Byrd in an unsettling denouement. Told from alternating perspectives, this captivating, nuanced tale balances a pervading sense of melancholy with pockets of wry humor. Davies's masterly elegy is not to be missed.