“A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar” sounded like just the kind of historical traveller’s tale I love. One of those magical “stranger in a strange land” adventures of an intrepid Edwardian woman venturing where foreigners aren’t welcomed and foreign women are seldom, if ever seen.
However, Suzanne Joinson’s novel turns out to be quite different from these expectations. Most of the historical action takes place while the narrator, her sister and their friend Millicent are under house arrest because of their missionary activities. Their journey along the Silk Road has brought them to Kashgar in Eastern Turkestan. It is 1923, and Evangeline English finds herself becoming a surrogate mother to a newborn girl child. It is because of the baby’s mother, and because of Millicent’s aggressive proselytising, that they are in their current predicament.
Meanwhile, in twenty-first century London, Frieda Blakeman encounters a homeless artist from Yemen outside the door of her flat. Shortly afterwards she discovers she has inherited the contents of the home of the late Irene Guy – apparently a relative of whom she knows nothing. Together she the Yemeni refugee, Tayeb, explore the contents of Irene Guy’s home, trying to find out who she is and how she is related to Frieda.
All this sounds intriguing, and it is, but it is a novel that lacks the necessary spark to make it really memorable. At times I found myself becoming impatient for something to happen, particularly to Evangeline and her companions, whose narrative is by far the most interesting part of the book.
But, I have to hand it to Ms Joinson – her novel, while not being what I expected, was also rather unpredictable in some of its revelations; always a nice surprise for the reader.