The Girl in the Painting by Renita D’Silva

This was such a beautiful and emotive story, and I loved that it reached back into the past while linking with the present.


India, 1926: English Margaret arrives with her new husband Suraj at his family home, set amidst beautiful rolling hills, the air filled with the soft scent of spices and hibiscus flowers. Margaret is unwelcome, homesick and lonely, but her maid Archana, a young woman from an impoverished family, reminds her of her long-lost sister, a tiny glimpse of home in a faraway place.

England, 2000: Emma is at a crossroads. She has discovered the lie at the heart of her relationship, and she worries over the right choice to make for herself and her beloved daughter. When her grandmother gives her a mysterious painting, and asks her to take a message of forgiveness to an old friend in India, Emma is relieved to have some time and space to make a decision about her future. But as she fulfils her grandmother’s wish, a secret kept for over seventy years is finally revealed – the story of a day spent painting by a stream full of water lilies, where a betrayal tore three lives apart forever…

The characters of Margaret and Archana were so beautifully written and I really enjoyed that their relationship was a slow build rather than immediately jumping in to it. Seeing them as children was really interesting, especially their different fears and secrets growing up. I also liked their different relationships with their siblings – seeing Margaret’s grief over losing her sister and how this plays into her friendship with Archana was truly emotive.

Margaret as a child was a brilliant, inquisitive and headstrong character, and it was fascinating seeing the war and its effects from the perspective of a child. Her development as a person, and D’Silva’s in-depth investigating into her understanding of the world around her was brilliantly written. Contrasting this with Archana’s childhood, her heartbreak over losing her sister and her fear of sati further highlighted the stark differences between the two girls.

The descriptions of England and India were fascinating, and the juxtaposition between the two worked really well, and helped further define the difference between Margaret and Archana. Their lives and cultures were so different and it was fascinating watching Margaret project her own pain onto Archana while failing to understand her at the same time.

The ending of their story was genuinely quite heartbreaking to read. Archana’s desperation to fulfil her duty, even if it meant giving her life, was really touching. Margaret’s twisted version of heroism was understandable but simultaneously frustrating to watch the way she went about it. I loved that the focus of the story was on the relationship between the two women rather than Margaret and her husband Suraj – although it was interesting to read the reactions to their unusual marriage.

The chapters that focused on Emma were a great way to link the past with the present. The difference between her relationship with David and Margaret’s with Suraj highlighted the difference between eras, and I loved seeing the bond between Emma and her grandmother. There was a slight twist at the end which made total sense but I wasn’t expecting, and it really worked well.

I loved this story, and would 100% recommend this to anyone wanting to read something a bit different and really emotive!

The Girl in the Painting
Renita D’Silva
Bookouture, 11 April 2019

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