Cambridge memories… and the Curry Club!

I love libraries. Where I grew up there was a tiny public library which I would go very frequently with my mum, who also loved reading. It didn’t take me long to work through the children’s department, though some books became firm friends, renewed endlessly. I still occasionally come across the same editions of those books, and hurriedly adopt them. When I got into the adult room, there was no stopping me. I rapidly became worldly wise through the medium of unsuitable reading matter – just a raised eyebrow or two from the librarian…

One of the great benefits of libraries is the opportunity to try books you may not otherwise buy. One of these treasures is The Cambridge Curry Club by Saumya Balsari. The novel is set in contemporary Cambridge; more specifically a charity shop on Mill Road. As I used to work along there, and have subsequently visited the area,I thought that this novel caught very well the bustling atmosphere of the Road. It is also partly an book about India, and the charity which the shop seeks to help. On the front of this copy it likens the novel to the Ladies Detective Agency genre, but it is certainly not as cosy or neatly plotted as those books. This is a better, more challenging read. Each woman who works in the shop has her own story, either how she arrived as a volunteer or how her life outside the shop continues.

This book is a funny, yet realistic account of  lives in Cambridge. A woman who has been pressured into marriage in India, and whose husband is completely under his family’s influence, even from thousands of miles away. A woman who has unusual parties and discovers her husband has a secret life.  A badly behaved parrot, a man writing letters and measuring junk mail by the inch,  the incredible items that are donated, all combine to give a broad, if sometimes confusing picture of events in the progress of the shop. Bemused customers seek bargains alongside delivery people who get sidetracked and those upset that it is solely an Indian charity. The book culminates in a farcical ( in a good way) account of detective work by the shop workers, a concealed corpse, a lost prayer book and destruction. Each character is given a proper concluding section, but in such a way as to reflect the untidiness of real life, rather than neat solutions. There are some references to contemporary Indian culture that passed me by, even as a veteran reader of A Suitable Boy and other books, but a little confusion seems a small price to pay to enjoy this novel. Definitely worth seeking out in your library or bookshop as a book that is difficult to define but fascinating in its complexity.

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