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Novel set largely in Benaulim, Goa

20th January 2020

The Portuguese House by Pamela D Holloway, novel set largely in Benaulim, Goa.

Novel set largely in Benaulim, Goa

Liz O’Malley is a well known writer and has won both the Booker and Whitbread Prizes in the past. Her husband, it transpires, has been cheating on her and he leaves the relationship to be with his pregnant assistant.

Liz flies to Goa to try and mend her broken heart and her natural choice, being a wealthy author, is to check into the upmarket Taj Exotica. A few days turn into weeks as she acclimatises to rhythm of life in Goa.

One day she is browsing the newspaper and discovers that a house – the eponymous Portuguese house of the title – is for sale, a derelict edifice that needs a great deal of work. In the blink of an eye she has negotiated the purchase (I imagine the bureaucracy in India would mean it takes a hugely long time for a foreigner to buy a substantial property like that). She finds the construction workers to carry out the renovations, supervised by Ashok. Now she has the opportunity to become a benefactor and to look after a child that has been abandoned in the grounds, nurture the cats that have materialised in the garden and generally enjoy her new found situation.

In Delhi she meets the British Ambassador and they recognise that there might be a frisson between them. A trip to the Greek islands to meet his young sons (his wife died) does not go as planned and she returns once again to nurse her heart in the place she calls home, the Villa O’Mal as the locals have dubbed it. Communication has stopped between the two but she maintains contact with one of Philip’s children. Can this be an opening for a future relationship?

I read  this novel whilst actually in Goa and really got into the vibe of the storytelling. Goa is delightfully rendered with all the exotic heat, flavours and smells, right down to the chaotic driving and the oftentimes hand to mouth existence of the locals who live beyond the top class hotels (see the author’s #TalkingLocationWith…. feature, where you can find out more about the author’s research of locale).

This is very clearly Liz’s story and at times the narrative cuts to the POV of another character without real warning. The British PM arrives at the Ambassador’s residence,  where Philip has Liz by his side in a welcoming capacity – the PM has a small part in the narrative but suddenly it becomes her story for a bit, and a bit out of the blue. This for me sometimes threw the reading experience off kilter. The transitions between characters’ stories needed a bit more work.

The build up to the purchase of the house wasn’t explained and it happened within a couple of pages. Liz’s interest in buying the house seemed to come from nowhere. I admire her spontaneity.

On several occasions the progression of the narrative was unclear. Ronnie (Liz’s sister’s friend) was reported as having left but a couple of paragraphs further on Ronnie tells Liz he is leaving. These are all small issues which a firmer editing hand can hone. Otherwise it is a very readable novel and has all the components of a good, old fashioned romance story.

I really liked the cover but it didn’t really give much away about the content, other than it is set somewhere exotic (and it is very hard to see the author’s name on the cover). I feel the author may lose readers who would otherwise be drawn to romance and the story of a determined, sympathetic and resourceful woman.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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