Friday book review – The Kashmir Shawl by Rosie Thomas

Published by Emma Lee-Potter in on Friday 24th February 2012

I’ve been a fan of Rosie Thomas’s novels for years. I’ve read virtually all of them and reckon my favourites are Follies (set in my home city of Oxford), Sunrise and White. Those three are certainly the ones that have made me cry the most.

Rosie is a keen traveller and over the years she’s climbed the Himalayas, competed in the Peking to Paris car rally and trekked across Antarctica. Not surprisingly, her exotic travels have provided the backdrop for lots of her books, including her latest, The Kashmir Shawl, which is out in paperback next week.

Her 20th novel, it’s set in two locations – the hills of North Wales, where Rosie grew up, and remote northern India. The story begins in 1939, when Nerys Watkins and Evan, her serious-minded Presbyterian husband, set out on a missionary posting to the Himalayas. After Evan travels further afield to preach, Nerys joins a group of glamorous friends in the lakeside city of Srinagar. The women live on houseboats, dance, flirt and fall in love – a world away from life with their husbands.

Sixty years later, long after Nerys’s death, her granddaughter Mair returns to Wales to clear out her late father’s house. There, hidden in a chest of drawers, she discovers an embroidered pashmina, with a lock of silky brown hair wrapped inside. There are no clues as to whose it was, so Mair decides to travel to Kashmir and unravel the story for herself.

Rosie, who’s twice won the Romantic Novel of the Year award, is a wonderful storyteller. The Kashmir Shawl isn’t quite as breathtaking as White (and I found Nerys’s story far more interesting than Mair’s) but I was completely captivated by the images she paints of the rugged Himalayas and Kashmir’s beguiling beauty. When she describes Nerys’s arrival in Leh, a barren town cut off by snow for half of the year, you can sense the young woman’s shock at the cold, isolation and high altitude. “It was as if all the oxygen had been sucked out of her brain and her blood,” writes Rosie, “leaving her whole body as limp as string.”

The Kashmir Shawl by Rosie Thomas (Harper, £7.99)

PS. The Kashmir Shawl has been shortlisted in the epic romantic novel category of the 2012 Romantic Novel of the Year award.

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