By Rodney Reynolds
It’s 1805 and the new Governor of the Crown Colony of Ceylon has just arrived to take his place in the country. The Kandyan War continues unabated in the hill country, and local half-Sinhalese, half-Portuguese beauty, Lovinia, experiences the impact of these events on her flourishing life.
Imagine being transported to Colonial Ceylon and taken on a journey of love, lust and intrigue over 200 years ago. That’s exactly what author Roderic Grigson gets with the evocative descriptions of him in his fourth novel, “The governor’s mistress”.
Grigson tells the story of the relationship forming between Lovinia, the principal dancer in her father’s corps de ballet, and the newly arrived governor, Sir Thomas Maitland. A relationship that has the power to change his fortune and that of his father and family, whom he loves dearly. She is torn between two very different lives and she must choose to follow her heart or her head.
History provides stories that need to be kept alive to understand how different cultures have developed and grown. I quickly got lost in the beauty, enchantment and mystery of Lovinia and this time and place in history.
By the end of the first chapter, drawn in by its mystique and left with a desire to know more about its history: past, present and future, I couldn’t put the book down.
This story is so important to recent Sri Lankan history that the town of Galkissa, where their clandestine affair took place, was renamed Mount Lavinia after the female protagonist of the narrative.
The mansion built for the Governor as his country retreat became the famous Mount Lavinia Hotel, one of the oldest hotels in Asia.
However, while the story offers us this fascinating underlying narrative, it leaves us with little else. Was this another romance or was there much more to this flirtation?
The well-researched novel combines historical fact with gripping fiction, and you’ve got a real turntable. Immerses the reader into life in Ceylon in the early 1800s, painting a vivid picture of the opulent colonial lifestyle enjoyed by the British ruling class against a backdrop of poverty, anger and resentment among locals who have lost their country because of the European invaders.
The areas in question are so well presented that they force the reader to see the country in a new way and to appreciate the historical significance of these neighborhoods.
Surrounding the two main protagonists is an equally intriguing cast of characters, each worthy of a story. They help provide depth and texture and give the reader a true appreciation for life in those times.
The author’s experience growing up in Ceylon and his knowledge of the country allowed him to put the reader right in the center of the story’s events. His easygoing writing style, carried through this novel and all of his previous novels, creates a sense of excitement through its unexpected twists.
More importantly, through the lives of the characters, the book presents the internal conflict and belief that we all come across, showing us that nothing is as simple as “just a love story.”
A fascinating read.