Susanna Moore

"One Last Look"

(reviewed by Mary Whipple JUL 22, 2004)

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Basing this story on real journals of the period, Susanna Moore recreates the lives of English nobility in India in 1836, just prior to the reign of Queen Victoria. Lady Eleanor Oliphant, through whose journal the story unfolds, accompanies her brother Henry to India when the family fortunes plummet and the King appoints Henry to be Governor-General in India, his base to be in Calcutta. Reflecting the attitudes of the early British colonialists, Eleanor tells us that she has twenty-seven servants, five of whom are needed whenever she washes her hands. More reflective than some of the other Englishwomen she meets, she admits that "The danger of this place is that I am learning to deny myself nothing." By contrast, her sister Harriet, also on the trip, finds India to be exhilarating, freeing her from the restrictions placed on women of her station in England and allowing her to make a real, independent life for herself.

Charged with winning over Afghanistan for Britain and preventing it from falling under the influence of Russia, Henry and his entourage travel from Calcutta to the Punjab to win the help of a raja there. Accompanied by ten thousand traveling companions, including his sisters and his household staff, Henry's caravan involves ten miles of beasts and men. As they travel in relative comfort west across the subcontinent, Eleanor records outbreaks of cholera and yellow fever, drought, and starvation so severe that 400,000 local people die in one area alone. Many deaths occur en route, and crippling loneliness sometimes overtakes the travelers, but Eleanor finds herself unexpectedly growing from the experience. In Delhi, where they meet the Emperor, Eleanor admits, "I find I am no longer very fond of Englishmen."

One Last Look is character-driven, rather than plot-driven, and Moore's depiction of the language and attitudes of the times is flawless--formal, restrained, and often self-indulgent. Though real memoirs were used as resources, Moore compresses time and scenes in ways uncommon to real memoirs, employing a novelist's sense of drama and a psychologist's sense of observation to lend the novel a real beginning, middle, and end. Lovely observations and descriptive passages revealing the vastness of India provide a welcome contrast to the smallness of the lives of the British aristocracy, whose insensitivity is presented with considerable irony. Though Eleanor grows enormously from her time in India, she never becomes a character with whom the reader feels immense sympathy, and it is clear that that is not Moore's intention. When Eleanor admits that "Nothing will ever be the same" after her India experience, the reader can only think of the extent to which that is the case for her Indian "hosts."

  • Amazon readers rating: from 16 reviews

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"The Whiteness of Bones"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark JUL 26, 1998)

I am haunted by this book --- by one of the last scenes in particular, and of course, I can not divulge more. 

In this story, Mamie Clarke is trying to understand her place in the world, basically as defined by the physiognomy of the female body.  While a child living at the family home in Hawaii a devoted household employee touches her "down there." She reports it to her father and faces the consequences ever after. Just as she is about to finish college, Mamie flees to New York to visit Aunt Alice (Alysse to her New York friends).  She decides to stay and find a job and then her sister Claire suddenly shows up, adding a whole other dimension to her life. (Oh, I recall some of these frustrations with my sister!)

The writer really uses this story to explore the more self destructive side of feminism and self absorption of the eighties. Is it really all right if you are harming no one, but yourself?  The book is about as unkind to the elite in New York City as Tom Wolff's Bonfire of the Vanities.  By the way, Mamie's best friend, Lily Shields, is the main character in My Old Sweetheart

Amazon readers' rating: from 5 reviews

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About the Author:

Susanna MooreSusanna Moore won the PEN Ernest Hemingway Citation and the Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters for her first novel, My Old Sweetheart.  She is from Hawaii and now lives in New York City. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014