Desert Isle Keeper
The India Fan
Although I read a lot of Victoria Holt’s novels in my twenties, The India Fan is one that somehow passed me by, so I was delighted to see that it’s being reissued – and with a lovely new cover.
For anyone not familiar with the author, Holt is one of several pseudonyms used by the very prolific British author Eleanor Hibbert (Burford). In her identity as Holt, she wrote a large number of gothic romances between 1960 and 1993; while as Jean Plaidy, she wrote historical novels recounting mainly the lives of British royals from Willam the Conqueror to Queen Victoria, and as Philippa Carr, she wrote other historical fiction.
Holt’s gothic romances usually feature an imperiled heroine, exotic locations, suspense, tragedy – and The India Fan is no exception. It was originally published in 1988, and I’m happy to report that for me, it held up very well reading it more than 25 years later.
The story centers around Drusilla Delaney, daughter of the parish of Framlings, the large country house inhabited by the Framling family, the haughty Lady Harriet and her two children, Fabian and Lavinia. The children are spoiled and bratty; as the only member of the community of suitable social standing and similar age, Drusilla is frequently invited to the house to play with Lavinia, even though she doesn’t like her very much.
Lavinia grows into a beautiful young woman, but never leaves behind her childishness and self-centeredness, and when she is caught in flagrante delicto with one of the grooms, Lady Harriet decides to send her away to school. Lavinia’s mother recognizes that her daughter needs reining in, and to that end sends Drusilla with her hoping that the latter’s sensible nature will be a good influence.
But Lavinia continues to do exactly what she wants and finds ways of meeting men outside school. The girls are moved to another school in England and eventually to another in France, a select finishing school, and it’s here that Lavinia finally meets her undoing.
Of course, being Lavinia, she doesn’t let that bother her for long, and is content to let Drusilla deal with her problems; all she wants is to blithely sail through life, untroubled and surrounded by admirers.
It would be easy at this point to see Drusilla as somewhat of a doormat, but incredibly, she isn’t. She’s strong, holds her own opinions and is quite capable of standing up to Lavinia and telling her how awful her behavior is, or giving her a good talking to. The fact that Lavinia never takes any notice is not due to any failing on Drusilla’s part, and she is sensible enough to realize that; despite the rather odd dynamic between them, Drusilla is genuinely fond of Lavinia, and Lavinia is, in her own way, fond of Drusilla.
The plot is fairly complex and there is a large cast of supporting characters, all of whom are carefully delineated and fleshed-out. The action moves from Europe to India for the latter part of the book as Lavinia moves there with her husband, who works for the East India Company. Drusilla is asked by Fabian – whom she has seen at various times throughout the book – to go to India to be with Lavinia and her children and she agrees to go. But times are changing and there are rumblings of unrest and violence which culminate in the mutiny of 1857.
Fabian has, fortunately, outgrown his more bratty tendencies and grown into a strong, capable, and attractive man. His interest in Drusilla is apparent quite early on, although she never sees it for what it is and believes it to be merely friendship. But they grow closer during their time in India, sharing danger and adventure, and even though Drusilla believes he is to marry someone else when they return to England, she does finally realize that what she feels for him is far more than friendship.
The story spans more than twenty years and while I can appreciate that some may find the pace slow, I didn’t find that to be the case at all. Nothing is wasted or superfluous, and it was a real joy to have time to savor the writing and the descriptions and to become fully involved in the story. The narration is in the first person, which isn’t something I usually enjoy, but seeing Lavinia and Fabian and all the others through Drusilla’s perceptive eyes worked for me here. I hope this reissue is an indication that we can expect more of Victoria Holt’s novels to reappear over the coming months. This one is highly recommended.