Cressida's Bed by Desmond Barry 2018-02-28 11:08:01

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by Desmond Barry
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Cressida's Bed by Desmond Barry
Desmond Barry
Jonathan Cape
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In Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida 'Cressida's bed' is India, and Desmond Barry's brilliant new novel begins in Bombay in 1931. Christina Devenish, feminist and Theosophist, is running a birth control clinic. When it is torched by Hindu extremists, and Christina's Indian helper is killed, she receives an invitation from her father, Colonel Devenish, to visit him in Bhutan, where he is an advisor at the court of the Shabdrung, Bhutan's version of the Dalai Lama. When Christina gets to Calcutta, she finds that, without her knowledge, she has been conscripted into a British expedition journeying to Bhutan ostensibly to invest the Maharaja with a medal but secretly with the task of persuading Christina's father to return to India, as his support of the Shabdrung in a dispute against the Maharaja is proving embarrassing to the British authorities. The expedition is led by Major Owen Davies, a tough Welsh officer from the Political Department, the intelligence service of the Raj. Inevitably, opposites attract and, as they journey towards Bhutan, Christina and Owen begin an affair. It is passionate and intense, but once in Bhutan other loyalties intrude. Christina's father is embroiled in the politics of this strange almost medieval kingdom, and when Christina meets the Shabrung, the young god-king, his effect on her is literally stunning. She realizes that he is the 'real thing' she has been searching for all her life. Bewildered by the labyrinthine politics swirling around her, Christina is outmanoeuvred by Davies and Tobgye, the Maharaja's lieutenant. Colonel Devenish falls desperately ill, and is evacuated, protesting, to India. It is as the expedition is entering Indian territory again that Christina hears that the Shabdrung has been assassinated. She suspects that Owen is complicit in his murder, and rejects him. The final act is played out in Calcutta, in the midst of a demonstration for independence, and its consequences are shattering.

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