Lead Review

  • Book: Circumstance
  • Location: Malaysia (Malaya)
  • Author: Rosie Milne

Review Author: tripfiction



Frank Langham takes a wager that he will return from a short sojourn in England with a wife in tow when he returns to his colonial duties in Malaya. It is Rose who falls for his charms and soon they are ensconced in their bungalow in Kluanak on the fictional island of Saramantan. It is in the middle of the jungle and colonial rule still holds sway over the local populace.

It is a hard posting, made even more precarious because Frank has omitted to tell Rose that, for 10 years, he lived in the very same house with his watercolour wife – a concubine (6 out of 10 bachelors at the time would have had a ‘nonya‘ to keep them company in their lonely hours). Nony, as he calls her, has summarily been dispatched back to live with her fellow natives on the kampung. To complicate matters even further, he has produced 4 children with her, little ones who clearly have a Western parent, as they are lighter in colour than the other children in their settlement.

It is this secret that keeps the story percolating. Will Rose, the new ‘mem‘ in the area, discover this significant history of her husband’s paramour as she goes exploring the locality. She is a comparative giant with red hair and green eyes and therefore she is known everywhere she goes.

Nony’s silence cannot be bought and soon None believes she has the tables turned on Frank, who has cruelly banished her; to him she has served her time and she is no longer part of his life. Sorcery may help her gain redress for her and their joint children….

The author brilliantly evokes the era and place to tell the story, using the formal and clipped language that feels very much of the time. The Malayan jungle, with its dripping, humid and humming atmosphere is tangible, the animal noises that shriek through the plantations feel real, the mosquitoes buzz by and settle on unprotected skin and insects bump amongst the lanterns – a vibrant and languid backdrop to this languorously told story with a good turn at the end.

There is a real nod to the storytelling of William Somerset Maughan and in particular to his story Force of Circumstance.

A novel for fans of Dinah Jefferies.

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