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Novel set in Rajasthan (“come to India, lose your fears”)

27th May 2015

The Overnight Palace by Janet Marie Sola, novel set in Rajasthan, India.

India: “To understand is not important. To enjoy is important”

IMG_0879I chose to read this novel whilst I was planning a trip to Rajasthan later in the year. Through fiction I wanted to experience this particular area of India so that I could get a sense of what to expect. It fitted the bill perfectly. I followed Elena, an American, 40 year old, as she explored the alleyways of Udaipur – where the novel is largely set – weaving in and out of the streets, observing the culture and customs of this beautiful and unique place through her observant eyes.

As the book opens she decides to leave her friend and the ashram, her initiation into India, and travels by train to Rajasthan. Early on she is tempted into buying a small painting but she has hardly acquired it, when it is lost/stolen. She makes it her quest to try and find it again, or find the original artist who might be able to replicate it for her. She is soon joined by local man Sahil, some years her junior, and theirs becomes a love match as they spend time together exploring the delights – and terrors – of the area.

It is a beautifully observed novel, well written and it does have jewel-like moments of pleasure. But the story of the love affair between the two doesn’t feel wholly credible – it is a culture clash that never moves beyond the superficial exploration of what it might mean to be a Western woman dating a (much younger) man in India. The focus of the story is wobbly, it feels like the author can’t make up her mind whether she wants this to be a sliding doors experience (how Elena’s story might have been different had she not bought the picture, then lost it); or whether it is to be an exploration of the local culture, populated as it is by Hindu gods, who may offer moments of enlightenment towards a more fulfilling path. The book is divided into sections headed by the goddesses Saraswati, Durga, Parvati….

The ending is, well, odd. An unusual use for nail polish, it has to be said. But what I was left with was a very strong sense of place – whether is was exploring the streets of Udaipur, taking a boat across to The Taj Lake Palace on Lake Pichola (which, unless you are staying there, you can now no longer visit as they do in the book), or the sad spectacle of hand prints left as a mark of existence, by widows who jumped on to the funeral pyres of their husbands. Overall, a memorable and enjoyable read.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

You can connect with Janet via her website; and with the Team at TripFiction on social media: TwitterFacebook and Pinterest and when we have some interesting photos we can sometimes be found over on Instagram too.


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  1. User: aditi3991

    Posted on: 29/05/2015 at 6:11 am

    Wow, this sounds like a delightful read. I wish I could read this book! 🙂


  2. User: tripfiction

    Posted on: 28/05/2015 at 6:09 pm

    For sure, Rebecca S. And taking plenty of books set there! 🙂


  3. User: Rebecca S.

    Posted on: 28/05/2015 at 4:47 pm

    Awesome. Post pictures when you return!


  4. User: tripfiction

    Posted on: 28/05/2015 at 4:37 pm

    Hi Rebecca S. Definitely! It is wonderful for locale and some of the events probably wouldn’t happen to the average tourist, I think!! (Here’s hoping, anyway!). 🙂


  5. User: Rebecca S.

    Posted on: 28/05/2015 at 4:33 pm

    Sounds like a worthwhile read. The question is, will you still be visiting Rajasthan?