M(ary) M(argaret) Kaye David Weinberger - Essay

David Weinberger

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Shadow of the Moon is a pale shadow of M. M. Kaye's previous best seller, The Far Pavilions, a 1,000-page epic of 19th-century India (pronounced In-juh). Her writing was competent and professional, she conveyed the historical information painlessly, and if the plot and characters were coldly calculated to get the hero to all the important events, still it was a novel one could read with a clear conscience. The new book is again set in India, this time prior to the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857, and we learn little new. Still, the familiar landscape might be enticing is only Kaye had bothered to come up with a new plot. (p. 56)

Kaye's reliance on mutual misunderstandings as a plot device in The Far Pavilions becomes fatal in Shadow of the Moon: the protagonists fall in love early on, but to keep the story rolling Kaye has to frustrate them. For hundreds of pages all would be fine if only he would tell her that he loves her. In her first book this had a sort of Victorian charm because the lack of candor was rooted in character. Here the characters themselves are without roots or solidity. And the plot is shameless, relying on absurd coincidences….

The writing is not quite clichéd, only hackneyed…. The dialogue is pompous and impossible, facts are over-explained, and Kaye is given to doubling phrases: "His message was less general and more specific." In a 600-page book, this is especially wearisome. Her political point of view is also suspect. Nominally she sympathizes with the Indians, but over-all her picture of them is fairly nasty and we find ourselves rooting for the British.

If an historical novel cannot be as interesting as its topic, it ought at least to be harder to put down than an encyclopedia article. (p. 57)

David Weinberger, "A Passage to In-juh," in Maclean's Magazine; (© 1979 by Maclean's Magazine; reprinted by permission), Vol. 93, No. 39, September 24, 1979, pp. 56-7.