The author of West returns with a novel set in 2012 India, where a misfit English librarian named Hilary Byrd is recovering from a nervous breakdown. As Byrd gets to know the residents of the mission house where he is staying, religious tensions are brewing—and the mission house may not be the safe haven it seems.
... the prevailing tone modulates between gentle humour and low-key poignancy. The small, often dashed hopes of the under-privileged...are affectingly noted ... Subtle with nuance and alive with immediacy, again adroitly using small-scale effects to enlarge understanding and extend empathy, the resulting novel is a masterly achievement.
Byrd is woven into the conflict, but in a complicated way, since Ms. Davies is eager not to fit him into the colonial-era role of the white savior. The Mission House is a careful, quiet, skillful drama of well-meant misunderstandings and cultural divisions. The interactions are polite and repressed, but the story is galvanized by the 'passion simmering under the surface of things. Always, every once in a while, the lid blowing off, and nothing, it seemed, that anyone could do to stop it happening.'
Davies prefers to leave the politics submerged in suggestive detail, occasionally bubbling up ... an interesting take on a familiar trope: the westerner who finds in India deliverance from the wasteland of modernity ... What’s different is that this isn’t the India of unadulterated eastern spirituality that normally greets that stock character. There are no banal mantras, no cryptic mystics. Jamshed, Ravi and Priscilla are all atheists. Byrd instead sees in India a vision of long-lost Englishness ... a twist...is dramatically unconvincing, yet thematically necessary. Byrd is like so many others, from beatniks to empire loyalists, who form a connection not with real Indians but with a fantasy of India fashioned out of their own ideological prejudices and psychological needs. The Mission House truthfully reveals that the new realities of India will increasingly have their revenge on these tired old romances.