Miss Timmins’ School for Girls by Nayana Currimbhoy
Published by Harper Paperbacks, an imprint of HarperCollins
Review copy provided by LibraryThing Early Reviewers
The year is 1974. Shy and insecure Charulata Apte arrives at Miss Timmins’ School for Girls in Panchgani, India and in the hopes of running away from her family, she begins teaching to the girls at the boarding school. Although Charu initially thought she’d have to keep to herself and remain friendless at the school, she is quickly drawn to a fellow teacher, Moira Prince, and the two become inseparable. When a major figure at the school is found at the bottom of a cliff – murder, suicide or accident, no one is sure – Charu’s happy existence is thrown into turmoil.
I absolutely hate the way I felt about this book. The problem is, I really wanted to love it. Based on the description, and even based on the first 100 pages, I truly believed I would love it. Unfortunately, it went downhill from there and I ended up really disliking it. This makes me sad.
First of all, I really liked Charu’s character in the beginning. I felt that I understood her, in a way, because I have been there myself. When I first moved to Florida I didn’t know anyone and I started at a job where, although I was a transfer from another office in another state, I was looked at as the “new kid” who probably didn’t know anything. I definitely had a hard time fitting in at first and had to work to build friendships and relationships with my coworkers. Happily, that’s much better now, almost two years later, but my point is that I know what it’s like to be the new person in a situation and have to build relationships from scratch. It’s hard. And it was even harder for Charu because she had virtually no self-confidence because of a birthmark on her face. So when her and Prince began their friendship, I really rooted for her and I enjoyed reading about their relationship. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the two women became more than friends, I liked that Currimbhoy took a somewhat taboo topic (based on the time period and the culture the book was set in) and folded it into the story so seamlessly.
Unfortunately, that is where my positive feelings end with this novel. After the death I mentioned above, everything completely fell apart for me and I began loathing the fact that I had to pick up this book and finish it. There is a huge section in the book that is narrated by one of the girls at the school, which truly didn’t work for me. It surprised me and took me out of the story and frankly, I didn’t like this character at all. So I wasn’t happy to hear from her for such a huge part of the book.
I thought the novel was going to have more of a mystery feel, but instead it was a character study with tiny mystery aspects twisted in, and it just didn’t work for me. I do enjoy character studies when they are done well, but in this case I couldn’t care enough about Charu and the girls at the school to continue being immersed in their lives. I really wanted to find out what happened with the murder, but it felt like it just took forever to get there. Plus, the book was much too long, in my opinion (500 pages), for what it was. I felt that it dragged on and on with no end in sight, and frankly I found myself extremely bored.
I don’t mean to sound harsh. The book did have a lot of promise, and there were things about it I did like. But overall, Miss Timmins’ School for Girls was just not my cup of tea.