The Bloodstone Papers

The Bloodstone Papers

by Glen Duncan
     
 

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Switching seamlessly between the chaos and bloodshed of 1940s India and the multicultural mélange of twenty-first-century Britain, Glen Duncan's sublime new novel finds love in both.

Ross Monroe is a boxing railwayman with a weakness for get-rich-quick schemes. Kate Lyle is a headstrong young woman desperate to escape a sexually predatory household.

Overview

Switching seamlessly between the chaos and bloodshed of 1940s India and the multicultural mélange of twenty-first-century Britain, Glen Duncan's sublime new novel finds love in both.

Ross Monroe is a boxing railwayman with a weakness for get-rich-quick schemes. Kate Lyle is a headstrong young woman desperate to escape a sexually predatory household. Both are Anglo-Indians, members of a race that helped turn the wheels of Empire for years. But Empire days are numbered, and as India sheds its colonial skin, the young lovers must face their own tryst with destiny.

In twenty-first-century England, Owen Monroe is writing this story of his parents' lives in an effort to avoid the problems in his own: lost love, relentless libido, dreams of death, and a world full of headlines he can't understand and doesn't want to. But keeping past and present apart isn't as easy as it seems, and before long Owen is deep in the one story he never wanted to tell....

Epic in its scope yet never losing sight of the telling, gorgeous detail, The Bloodstone Papers is an extraordinarily rich and beautiful read that manages to ask the big questions without fuss and to accept that the big answers aren't always what we want to hear.

Editorial Reviews

Dinita Smith
The Bloodstone Papers is an intriguing depiction of the complexities of dual identity…despite the novel's flaws, the relationship between father and son, and the story's ending, are models of a grand forgiveness, of a vision large and big-hearted. You keep on reading, fascinated by the descriptions of colonial India, and by the quandary of the Anglo-Indians' unstable, porous identity. It's of course an increasing predicament of globalization, and it's one of contemporary fiction's great themes.
—The New York Times
Liesl Schillinger
Oh, what a character is Skinner! George Skinner—also known as Nelson Edwards—author of a sari-ripper called "Raj Rogue" (the adventures of a "sort of X-rated criminal Bond of the Raj") is an ace practitioner of the slipperiest form of "masculine seduction," the con. Skinner's guile runs like a magnetic seam through The Bloodstone Papers, compelling our attention, setting our curiosity atingle.
—The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly

A listless part-time teacher and writer of pornographic novels helps his elderly father quench a decades-old thirst for revenge in Duncan's sixth novel (after Death of an Ordinary Man). Anglo-Indian narrator Owen Monroe, long accustomed to his quasi-bohemian lifestyle in contemporary London, has been hearing from his father, Ross, for years about the devious Skinner, the English con man who, decades before, ruined Ross's Olympic boxing dreams. Though Skinner disappeared, Ross has never given up hope of finding him, but it is Owen's chance discovery in a library (a novel by a pseudonymous author Owen and Ross believe to be Skinner) that finally gives them a lead. Posing as a literary scholar, Owen tries to arrange an interview with the author, but ends up instead in bed (repeatedly) with the author's daughter, Janet. As Owen continues his investigation, Duncan cuts back to pre- and post-partition India, where Ross, a railroad worker, first encounters Skinner and eventually becomes unwisely involved in a scheme to boost freight from a train Ross and his longtime friend Eugene work on. The plan's consequences are far-reaching for all involved and propel the novel toward a surprisingly anticlimactic conclusion. Though the narrative sometimes feels coyly deceptive, Duncan's polished, merciless and frequently hilarious prose supplies a trove of pleasures all its own. (Aug.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
A talky, pleasing generational novel of divided worlds, blending postmodern conceits with old-fashioned whodunit conventions. Owen Monroe is a writer and slacker of dissolute tendencies, better versed in Shiraz vintages and American sitcoms than in history. "I can forgive America anything for these girls it produces," he sighs, ogling a rerun of Supergirl. Yet, now that his Anglo-Indian parents, born of two cultures and peoples, are aging, Owen is paying more attention to them, visiting their suburban home for "moreish nibbles of my parents' lost past-gathia, choora and seo-followed by a lunch of korma (the dry South Indian version, not the curry house's coconut jism) with pepper-water and plain Dehra Dun rice." His parents are talking and now Owen's listening as, fragment by fragment, their story unfolds: a courtship fraught with difficulty, Ross Monroe's failed career as a prizefighter, his more successful ventures as the victim of an elaborate con game that liberates from him his most prized possession, his mother's bloodstone ring, "green chalcedony with blood-like spots of jasper." The liberator is a jutted-chin Brit out of Kipling's "The Man Who Would Be King," whom Ross will meet again-and so will Owen. The aptly named Mr. Skinner is but one of Ross's problems, as Owen learns as he gets deeper into a book project about the Cheechees, the Anglo-Indians of the last generation before Indian independence. Owen's own life is not without dramas, if sometimes vicarious ones, that sometimes rather too neatly fall in parallel with those of the narrative he is pursuing. But then, as Owen explains, "Destiny, like truth, never really surprises; some Chomskyan grammar is there to receive it."Tracking those parallels leads to some surprises, as well as a shaggy-dog false ending that gives way to a more satisfying payoff. A vigorous roman a ghee, reminiscent at turns of Vikram Seth, Zadie Smith and Douglas Coupland.
The Independenton Sunday
‘Richly satisfying. Duncan manages to fuse racial and personal dislocation beautifully in this long, seductive narrative....A terrific yarn.’
Alfred Hickling
[A] sprawling, ambitious work…it loops back and forth through history with remarkable lucidity… ultimately very moving.’
Arena
Superb...Perhaps this book will finally bring him the mainstream recognition he deserves.
The Guardian
"An appallingly intelligent writer"
The Independent on Sunday
‘Richly satisfying. Duncan manages to fuse racial and personal dislocation beautifully in this long, seductive narrative....A terrific yarn.’

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061876127
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
10/13/2009
Sold by:
HARPERCOLLINS
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
432
Sales rank:
971,704
File size:
570 KB

Read an Excerpt

Bloodstone Papers, The

Chapter Two

The Boy and the Ring

(The Cheechee Papers: Bhusawal, Jabalpur, Bombay, Lahore, 1932-42)

I don't like beginning my father's story with the bloodstone ring. Ring beginnings imply ring endings. Lost rings are found, stolen rings recovered; cursed rings detonate their evil, lucky rings work their charm. Rings have mythic baggage, the whiff of Tolkien, implicit narrative tilt. (Except in real life. I wore a few in adolescence, my faux Navajo or Apache incarnation. For at least a year, ajangle with beads and bracelets I told girls at parties I was Geronimo's great-great-great grandson - efficaciously on two or three occasions, since it got me into their pants. The rings - a turquoise nugget, a Celtic silver band, an abalone crescent moon, a skull and crossbones with tiny obsidian eyes - were part of this teen fiction but none of them meant anything, and now they're gone.) So I repeat: I don't like beginning my father's story with something as plottish as a ring, but it's inescapable. There was a ring, it did begin something.

Ending something is another matter, and it's the business of endings - I must also repeat - that gives me the willies.

However.

As a child my father, Ross Douglas Aloysius Monroe, youngest of ten siblings, was fascinated by his mother's bloodstone ring. The jewel, green chalcedony with blood-like spots of jasper, had been given to her, Beatrice, by her first beau, Raymond Varney, who'd broken her heart (only her heart, she stressed, mantrically, with raised index) by abandoning her for 'a life of adventure on the oceans of the world'. As she recited this her eyes teared and looked far off, relishing the fierceness of the wound. (Ross's father, Louis Archibald Monroe, had his own version of the story, namely that Raymond had run off with a Polish prostitute treasured amongst the Bhusawal railwaymen for her apparently miraculous immunity from the clap. Blessed Olga of the Holy Crotch. It delighted my grandfather to repeat this. When he did Beatrice turned her face away and breathed superiorly through her babyish round nostrils.)

She didn't wear the bloodstone (Ross was drawn as much by the red thud and mineral rasp of the word - bloodstone - as by its object) but kept it in a lacquered trinket box on her dresser. You remind me so much of him, you know, she would incant, taking her youngest's face between her hands while the boy turned the jewel in the light. 'Him' was lost love Raymond Varney, and had it not been for chronological impossibility Ross might have suspected himself the man's child. When you come of age, my son, Beatrice would murmur, this ring will be yours. She was a small, restive woman with a penchant for ominous utterances. In her mind unrelated things were force-married into mysterious meaning; in this case Ross and the legendary Raymond, but she could make grist of anything - a simple bazaar purchase could be imbued with Fate. Child at that very moment this teapot caught my eye, you know? There was no question. Certain things . . . She'd leave the rest unsaid, lean back, suck her teeth, chit, turn down her mouth-corners in satisfied submission and look away into the great web of Destiny.

'But when will I come of age, Mumma?' Ross asked her one morning, holding the ring up to the window's ferocious light in which the jewel's red, gold and green throbbed with apparent sentience. Mother and son were in Beatrice's bedroom at the Bazaar Road house in Bhusawal. In a week Ross was to go up to Jabalpur to begin boarding school. His brothers, seasoned pupils, had spent hours telling him what a fucking place it was, extreme punishments for littleornothing. There couldn't, he knew, be many of these moments with his mother left.

Beatrice closed her eyes and lifted her chin, broad little face crinkling with arcane knowledge. 'My son, these things cannot be specified like that,' she said. 'The time comes when the time comes. You will know and I, too, will know. God will give us a sign.'

'But how will we know?' Ross persisted, slipping the ring on to his thumb, still years too small for it.

'Bus,' Beatrice said, holding up her hand. 'Trust me. Your mother will know, God willing she lives long enough, with that maniac trying to murder her.' 'That maniac' was Ross's father: sober, a genial and witty man; drunk, indiscriminately violent. Boozing segued into lashings out, belts across the face, kicks up the arse, cracks on the head with anything that came to hand. The whole household suffered, wife, kids, servants, dogs. Ross loved him but in the face of the rages had built up a charge of anger, a violence of his own with as yet nowhere to go.

'Enough now,' Beatrice said, taking the ring from him and putting it back in the box. 'Go and comb your hair before you go with Agnes.'

At the mention of his sister's name Ross's spirits sank. For weeks his brothers had been warning him - cryptically, with a sickening lack of detail - that this time must come. The interlude with the bloodstone had been the latest in a long line of flimsy distractions. Now, like an outreaching tentacle of Fate, the moment had found him.

Agnes was the oldest Monroe girl, a nurse at the Bhusawal Railway Hospital. Today Ross was to accompany her there for purposes unknown to him. He'd managed to extract a promise that it wasn't for injections or dentistry, that it wasn't going to hurt, but there was no fooling his deeper instinct. Mother and daughter had gone into quiet confab that morning on the veranda, fine-tuning this, whatever it was. Whatever it was, he knew he wasn't going to enjoy it. It wasn't going to be a treat.

'Don't be such a baby,' Agnes said, as they crossed the hospital compound and Ross quailed with the first inhalation of the building's ammoniacal stink. 'All your brothers have done this before you. There's absolutely nothing to be afraid of.'

Bloodstone Papers, The. Copyright © by Glen Duncan. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are saying about this

Alfred Hickling
[A] sprawling, ambitious work…it loops back and forth through history with remarkable lucidity… ultimately very moving.’

Meet the Author

Glen Duncan is the critically acclaimed author of six previous novels, including Death of an Ordinary Man; I, Lucifer; and, most recently, The Bloodstone Papers. He lives in London.

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