The Mission House

The Mission House


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Peta's Review

Winner of the The Sunday Times (London) Novel of the Year (2020), The Mission House by the Welsh writer Carys Davies, is a tender, beautifully written, compelling read. Set in a remote hill town in India, the novel follows 51-year-old Hilary Byrd, who, after a chance meeting, accepts an offer to stay in the presbytery’s vacant bungalow.  Welcomed by the Padre and his adopted daughter, Priscilla, Byrd finds pleasure in the apparent simple life he finds there. The narrative is filled with a collection of eclectic characters – Jamshed, the local rickshaw driver, who becomes Byrd’s personal chauffeur; Jamshed’s nephew, Ravi, an aspiring country and western singer in need of a horse; Ooly, the old black dog who stares at Byrd with “what seemed like frank, intense longing”, and Byrd’s sister, Wyn, still back in Petts Wood, who Byrd is in constant correspondence with. When asked by the Padre to teach Priscilla to read and write, Byrd reluctantly obliges. This soon leads to teaching her sewing, and baking and slowly Byrd realises he is falling in love with his eager young pupil.  But the Padre has other ideas, and so does Priscilla.  The Padre wishes Priscilla to marry a good Christian man, something Byrd is not, while Priscilla is determined to be with Ravi. And then there is Henry Page, the absent missionary, who will ultimately change the course of each character’s life.

As the narrative unfolds, we come to know each character intimately, all with their own desires, anxieties, struggles and secrets. As Byrd’s feelings for Priscilla grow, so too does the relationship between Byrd and Jamshed. It is Jamshed who truly comes to know Byrd, and in the final scene, when Byrd takes Jamshed’s hand and whispers “stay”, the pathos of the friendship is laid bare. Davies writes, “What was it that Mann had written? A late adventure of the feelings…

While undoubtedly Davies is commenting on the legacy of British imperialism in India, this is in no way an overtly political novel. Rather it is about being human. About friendship and love and finding solace. A truly beautiful read.


Publishers Reviews

The first full-length novel from one of this generation's greatest literary writers.

Fleeing the dark undercurrents of contemporary Britain, Hilary Byrd takes refuge in a hill station in South India. There he finds solace in life's simple pleasures, travelling by rickshaw around the small town and staying in a mission house beside the local presbytery, where the Padre and his adoptive daughter Priscilla have taken him under their wing.

As his friendship with the young woman grows, Hilary begins to wonder whether his purpose lies in this new relationship. But religious tensions are brewing and the mission house may not be the safe haven it seems.
The Mission House boldly and imaginatively interrogates the fractures between faith and non-belief, young and old, imperial past and nationalistic present. Tenderly subversive and meticulously crafted, it is a deeply human story of the wonders and terrors of connection in a modern world.