Saturday, July 16, 2011

Miss Timmons' School For Girls

A book with a title like Miss Timmons' School For Girls can go either way. It could turn out to be that the title is completely accurate predictor of the story to come or it could be that the title is a mod writers jest and the book is really about a computer genius by day and a cross-dressing party girl by night who secretly adopts the orphans of a Nepalese village, puts them all through college and then finds love and acceptance with a former policewoman. In this case it's the former and I'm glad.

Miss Timmons' School For Girls by Nayana Currimbhoy is a coming of age story. The twist to this tale is that it takes place in India in 1974 and also involves a murder. Charulata Apte, not quite twenty-one, is the new teacher at Miss Timmons this term. Charu is a much loved only child from a Brahmin family. She is university educated and longs for a modern life in Bombay. Her parents would rather see her in a prosperous marriage surrounded by children but doubt that this can come about given the 'stain' on Charu's face. Charu and her parents reach a compromise about her immediate future after a scandal puts all of their dreams out of reach. This new plan sends Charu off to teach in a out-of-the-way girl’s boarding school.

The Miss Timmons' School started out in 1901 as a boarding school for the young daughters of the British Empire whose health was too delicate for the heat of the plains. Being situated in the western hills, the school offered these ladies a proper British education in a cooler climate. By the time Charu arrives in 1974, the school has been in and out of fashion several times and through a few different incarnations. Back in vogue in the early 1970’s the school still favors a British style education but now the girls are all from good, Christian Indian families.

Shy Charu is not surprisingly dazzled by a free thinking fellow teacher, Moira. Moira is a pot smoker who listens to rock and roll, talks about hippies and embodies all the things that Charu thought living an independent life in Bombay would bring her. Currimbhoy populates the school and it's faculty with more of the same likeable and interesting but somewhat standard types. The rule follower, the gossip, the plotter, the liar, the brain, they are all there and comfortably move the story along.

The dramatic crisis of the novel is a murder that involves the school. Charu is devastated by the loss of a friend and shocked to find herself a suspect in the murder. Given the traditions of Miss Timmon's School for Girls it isn't likely that a gruesome crime would be allowed to take center stage and it doesn't. This book is not a whodunit. Instead the murder is a catalyst for change and the opportunity for Currimbhoy to bring more of the village into the novel.

The main character in Miss Timmons' might not be Charu but the weather. The monsoons are a major presence in the novel. Their approach, arrival and passing bracket all the action between the human characters. They have a profound impact in the decision making at the school and in the village. Although the tone of Currinbhoy's novel could not be more different the force of the monsoons on the characters as well as the school's remote location reminded me of the winds and isolation that torment the nuns in Rumer Godden's Black Narcissius.

Miss Timmons' School For Girls is a pleasant visit to a far away land and time. Nayana Currimbhoy enlivens this old fashioned tale with a contemporary take on the problems of growing up different.


  1. lol, I love the humor in your reviews, Happy. I think I might like this one. (you had me at pot smoker!)

  2. It might have been nice if instead of a reading group guide the publisher had including rolling papers. Something with a traditional Indian motif maybe.