The Far Cry, by Emma Smith

I had three choices for Persephone Reading Week after a little library spree, and was attracted to read The Far Cry, by Emma Smith first because of the beautiful, evocative language used in the excerpt (see previous post), which describes the book’s characters, stepping out into the streets of Calcutta at night-time. Reading the full story, I discovered that this was just a small sample of Smith’s excellent prose.

At the beginning of The Far Cry, Teresa a young girl is pulled out of school by her father – Mr Digby, who is terrified that his second wife, now divorced is going to take her away from him. It is a surprising and dramatic reaction considering that he doesn’t seem to be very emotionally attached to his daughter. In fact, in the passages that describe them being together it is clear that Teresa, a sort of inward-looking and sometimes spiteful child, has really missed having a caring, feminine figure to look after her. Teresa and Mr Digby set off to India where they plan to stay with Ruth, (Mr Digby’s eldest daughter from his first marriage) who is both beautiful and serene – the two qualities he admires both in a woman. The journey, by boat and across land from Bombay to an out-of-the-way place not far from Calcutta is a long one. During the trip Teresa encounters other young children who she sort of adopts and then discards. It is as if she desires admiration, and finds unattractive little children that she can influence to make herself feel in control. That is until she meets Miss Spooner, an elderly spinster on the last leg of the trip and strikes up a fleeting but important friendship before landing on the shores of the new land. On reaching India they part, lost in the hustle and bustle of Calcutta. Teresa and Mr Digby continue their journey to see Ruth and her husband Edwin who are experiencing their own relationship problems.

The Far Cry really is a journey, emotionally as well as physically for Teresa. The sights and sounds in the story are inspired by the authors own experiences (at the age of 23, Emma Smith went to India with a film crew that included Laurie Lee), but as she states in the preface that the characters she created were fictitious characters, although she later realised that Teresa “…had a good deal of me in her personality”. Smith wrote a diary on her trip and later used it to conjure up the sights and sounds of India in The Far Cry. I felt it was really lucky that she had captured her experiences at the time so that they could be woven into this story.

Smith’s prose really is gorgeous. The metaphors she uses never feel strained and her descriptions are full and invoke all the senses. Below is a passage from the night that Teresa goes with Miss Spooner to the Kali Puja festival:

“Lights, no bigger than the candles on a Christmas cake, fringed every balcony, every wall, every stall, every hovel, a multitude of tiny red flames flickering alive in the huge dark night. They were still being lit: glistening haunches bent forward, hands poured a trickle of oil into saucers…The warm air was soft with sorrow. They trod among the muddy unseen ashes of the dead. Widows lay along the slushy steps, prostrate in grief, or crouched forward silently setting afloat their candles in little boats of tin the size and shape of withered leaves.”

The nuances of the relationships within the book between Teresa and her father or Miss Spooner, Ruth and Edwin were perfectly balanced. At times I did feel a little frustrated. At the beginning of the book particularly Teresa seems cruel and difficult to understand. The relationship between Ruth and Edwin is painful and I found it was sometimes difficult to empathise with. At times, I did feel as if I was delving into hearts and minds of people who I wasn’t all that bothered about, however I could see that Smith’s way exploring people’s behaviour was clever and sensitive.

The Far Cry is as pretty as a picture but with emotional weight behind it that makes it simultaneously involving and frustrating. While the characters in the story didn’t always strike a chord with me, they were superbly developed and the prose was so vivid that it made me want to pack my bags! A good book to read when you want to be transported to far-away lands.

My rating:

7.5 out of 10

Have you read any books that make you want to pack your bags and visit a new country?

You can find links to more reviews of Persephone Books here and here.

22 responses to “The Far Cry, by Emma Smith

  1. Oh most definitely! I love books that can transport you somewhere else or that have lusting after that landscape, the slights and smells of a rich culture different from one’s own… I do find that India is one of the countries that can be so well evoked in literature because of the vibrancy of it.

    Thanks for reading this for PRW, Polly; it sounds fascinating and I like that Smith’s in-real-life travel experiences were incorporated into it.

    • novelinsights

      Hi Claire! Well thank you to you and Verity for hosting PRW, it gave me a little push to read it and I’m glad I have – so different and vivid.

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  3. India is one of those countries that I never tire of reading about. I’ve just ordered The Far Cry and cannot wait to read it. Thanks for the fascinating review – now I’m even more excited!

    • novelinsights

      Ooh, so you’ve got it on the way! Would love to read your thoughts when you’ve read it 🙂

  4. All the time, Polly, all the time! I think I still have itchy feet even though my backpack landed back on British soil in 1994: it’s never really gone away.

    I am loving the sound of this book! It really sounds like the sort I would enjoy. Great review; thanks! 🙂

    Arggghhhh, only a day after my little splurge in the Persophone shop and already I am adding more to my wish list.

    • novelinsights

      Tell me about it, I went travelling last year and this just makes me want to go again. Glad you like the sound of it, it really takes you away!

  5. Me too, all the time. This sounds like a really good one. I had been thinking of it for a while now, and because of your review, even more tempted. Now, how to whittle down the wish list for next Persephone Week??

  6. Your review made me want to read this book even more. Like The Wise Virgins, I found a non-Persephone copy of this book at the library. I didn’t come around to reading it for Persephone Reading Week, but you’ve convinced me to save it for later.

    • novelinsights

      Great that you picked it up in a different copy, was it an older version? Definitely keep it for a rainy day when you want to imagine it’s an Indian summer.

  7. A fascinating review, thank you! I normally shy away from novels of young girls coming to India in case they turn into poor copies of A Passage to India, but this one sounds like one I’d enjoy.

    • novelinsights

      Ooh, I’ve never actually read A Passage to India, so I can’t say how much it differs. Glad you enjoyed the review!

  8. This is one of my favorite Persephones! Thank you for the review.

  9. That sounds like a really interesting book, I do love books about new places, and journeys!

    As for me, I recently read The Illustrated Virago Book of Women Travellers which really got me travel-daydreaming, about pretty much the whole world. I recommend it!

  10. Oh it sounds brilliant – and I know exactly what you mean about books making you want to visit places. Murakami’s Norwegian Wood made me keen to explore Japan; and a Room with a View would surely make anyone want to go to Italy; Love in the Time of Cholera is so evocative of Colombia that I wish I could go there then and see what it was like; and Hemingway makes me want to pack my bags and explore the whole world. I’ve not read anything set in India, I don’t think, and this looks like a brilliant place to start. It sounds wonderful!

  11. This sounds like a great read, I love books that involve travel. I hadn’t heard of it before so thanks for introducing me to it. Love the pic you’ve used at the beginning of the post too!

  12. This sounds fantastic – I haven’t read much about The Far Cry but it’s always on my radar whenever I think about getting new Persephones. I love books that transport me to foreign climes – I don’t read enough of them though!

  13. I enjoyed this one too. I think it’s a book that grows on you. I finished it thinking that the story wasn’t that great and I enjoyed it more as a travelogue. However, months after reading it some of the images are still on my mind.

    • novelinsights

      That’s interesting, I have a sense that the images will remain with me too. I think I was only a little disappointed that after all that amazing imagery that it didn’t blow me away.

  14. This is on my list for my next trip to the shop. I find it interesting to read about characters in settings alien to their own as it brings out their true colours and even unveil virtues/vices they had no idea they had. I’ve turned down so many pages on my catalogue it looks done in.

    • novelinsights

      I really need to get myself a Persephone catalogue although i’m sure it would probably induce a terrible spending spree! Glad this appeals to you and I think that’s a really astute point about how different places bring out aspects of a personality.

  15. Pingback: Novel Insights’ May Review « Novel Insights

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