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The Towers of Silence by Paul Scott
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The Towers of Silence (1971)

by Paul Scott

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7011420,932 (4.05)1 / 115
It is the last, bitter days of World War II and the British Raj in India is crumbling. Ensconced in the Indian Hill Station of Pankot are the English wives, mothers, daughters and widows of the officers embroiled in the ongoing conflict. With their old beliefs and assumptions under increasingly virulent attack, all eyes are upon Captain Merrick and the British military to protect them in this troubled time. But Merrick, though outwardly a consummate professional, is brutal and corrupt, and not even his machinations can stop the change that is swiftly and inevitably approaching, change which is increasingly undermining the old myth of British invincibility...… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
(22) The third book in this mesmerizing tale of the end of the British rule of India. These books are so fascinating because they do not move the story far into time but instead retrace much of the time from the last book but through a different optic. This book is primarily through the eyes of Barbie Batchelor, the retired mission teacher, who was Mabel Layton's paying guest. I believe we also get Mildred Layton's perspective as well which gives the reader more of a view into Susan as opposed to Sarah Layton who was the protagonist of the second book. We do also see the aftermath of Merrick's hospitalization as well as Sarah's visit to Calcutta - but not until the end.

This was a quieter book than the first three. I am not sure that it stands alone. I found Miss Batchelor to be such a sad character, so lonely and full of frustrated hopes - she was very well drawn but maybe not as intriguing as our previous protagonists. Scott's prose though is just excellent. Complex, but feels effortless. Evocative, but not flowery. Incredibly atmospheric such that I feel as if I have been living in stuffy Rose cottage in Pankot with the cloying scent of roses, mixed with mildew, and a bit of body odor for the last few weeks.

I would love to see Susan's son and Daphne's daughter as they grow up but I have a feeling we really won't get that. I am not quite ready to leave behind Hari Kumar or Sarah Layton so I hope the 4th book has more of those characters. This series really is in my opinion the best of literary fiction. I look forward to the last installment. ( )
  jhowell | May 11, 2019 |
Brilliant series. This one completed the quartet for me. Of the four it is the least enjoyable for me, but still the within the framework of the quartet it is masterful. ( )
  yhgail | Feb 20, 2019 |
I am abandoning this novel at page 60 and the series as a whole at this point. The Jewel in the Crown was fantastic and I don't want to detract from that but I think he may have shot his load in that first volume. There's a serious case of narrative drift in The Day of the Scorpion, enlivened by occasional intensity. Something similar seems to be happening in this volume and I can't be bothered waiting to see if Scott gets his act together. I'm 40 this year, I smoke, I practice a number of physically taxing paraphilias and I have to wonder how long I have left.
  Lukerik | Jun 16, 2018 |
”A Dakhma, also called a Tower of Silence, is a circular, raised structure built by Zoroastrians for excarnation---that is, for dead bodies to be exposed to carrion birds, usually vultures.” ----From Wikipedia.

This third book of The Raj Quartet begins in 1939 when Barbie Batchelor’s shortcomings catch up with her and she is retired from the Mission that she has given her entire life to. She finds a place to live when Mildred Layton runs an ad in the Pankot paper advertising for a housemate. We have met both of these characters previously and really many of the events in the book are just a retelling of incidents that have been reported earlier. Most of the narrative takes place through Barbie’s point of view. And although this volume may be considered by some to be a rehash of what has already transpired, I found it to be just as compelling as the first two books.

Barbie is consumed by two deaths in particular; her friend Edwina Crane, who burned herself alive in 1942 in the first book and Mabel Layton’s eventual death in 1944. But really what Scott wants us to consider is the eventual death he is leading us up to: the death of The Raj. I cannot wait so see how he handles that in the fourth volume.

A great deal of the book is taken up by the doings of the women who are left behind in Pankot while their husbands are at the front. They are trying desperately to hang on to the world that they have become accustomed to. The most unusual tidbit I took away from their conversations is the length of time they would be away from their children. It would be unheard of today to go for four or five years without seeing your offspring but it was just an accepted part of this life.

But it’s death, both real and literal that this novel is concerned with. When we get to the end of the novel and Barbie has been consumed with watching the vultures gathered over the Dakhma for the Parsees she is asked by Sarah Layton if she doesn’t remember anything and Barbie thinks, ‘She remembered a great deal. But was unable to say what it was. The birds had picked the words clean.’
To say I’m blown away by Scott’s writing would be a complete understatement. His passages flow so beautifully that I caught myself holding my breath at times. I wish I hadn’t come to this series so late in life. I wonder how many times I would have reread it. Very highly recommended. ( )
1 vote brenzi | May 26, 2018 |
It isn't as eventful as the first two in the series (essentially it goes over the events that have already taken place but from different points of view) but the characters are fascinating. ( )
  ltfitch1 | Jun 5, 2016 |
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To Penny With all my Love
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In September 1939, when the war had just begun, Miss Batchelor retired from her post as superintendent of the Protestant mission schools in the city of Ranpur.
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"He should have died in the rubble of Quetta. In most ways he did. The Lord alone knows for what purpose the remains are preserved."
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Table of Contents:

Unknown Indian, Question of Loyalty, Silver in the Mess, Honour of the Regiment, Tennis Court
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