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1 Beaverton Literature- A to Z

This title in other editions

One Last Look


One Last Look Cover

ISBN13: 9780679450412
ISBN10: 0679450416
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Author Q & A

A Conversation with Susanna Moore

Q: What was your inspiration for writing this novel? Was it based much on the real Governor-general of India and his sisters and did they travel to Calcutta from England in 1936?

A: I lived in Calcutta for five months in 1999. While I was there, I read many journals, diaries, collections of letters and histories. While reading Up The Country by Emily Eden, who traveled to India in 1836 with her sister Fanny, her nephew, and her brother George Eden, Lord Auckland, I began to wonder what her life would have been—it seemed to me so clear from her letters that she was not telling the whole truth. I didn't know if she even knew the truth herself; most likely she did not. But I began to think about Calcutta in 1836: what would it have been like for Emily Eden and her younger sister, Fanny? That is how I began to write One Last Look.

Q: The language is, at times, reminiscent of Jane Austen. How did you go about finding the right pitch/conversational tone for these particular English aristocrats?

A: For two years I read everything I could find about England and India in the first half of the nineteenth century. I kept a notebook which turned into six large notebooks by the end of the two years. There are passages in the novel that are taken verbatim from the diaries of Emily Eden and Fanny Eden and another extraordinary traveler, Fanny Parkes.

Q: What does it mean in the story when a merchant says, “Calcutta is a pot of honey”?

A: "Calcutta is a pot of honey" means that in the first half of the nineteenth century, before the society became truly Victorian in feeling and tone, Bengal was a place to make money. The Governor-Generals returned to England rich men. It was a bountiful, lush, prosperous, easy place to make a fortune—in coal, in jute, and particularly cloth. It was also a very important market, like China, for export goods.

Q: The lives of women, even the aristocratic ones, come across as incredibly stifling, even when on colonial soil far away from home. Do you think this was true? And while your previous novel, the contemporary thriller set in New York, In the Cut, is so completely different in tone from this one, it could be said that each has a smart, strong, and observant woman at the center. Do they seem at all similar to you?

A. The lives of women were stifling. That is, in part, what interested me. It is possible to say that all of my books concern themselves with the notion of what it means to be female—whether it is in New York City in 2000 or Calcutta in 1836. In that way, my books really are the same.

Q: The relationship between the two sisters, Eleanor and Harriet, and their brother, Henry, is very close—to the point where Eleanor considers accompanying her brother to India her highest calling. Was that unusual for the time?

A: It was most usual for sisters when they were unmarried to remain together, and with other members of their family when it was possible. It was a matter of decorum as well as money. Because Eleanor is particularly close to her brother, remaining behind would have been out of the question. She also served a most practical purpose, in that Henry was a bachelor without a hostess. She was able to bring sophistication and intelligence to her role as mistress of Government House. Henry needed her with him for that, as well as for companionship and to exercise his familial responsibility.

Q: Concerning the people who really did live in this Imperialist society, do you think they felt they deserved to be there or was it simply fulfilling their duty to the crown? In other words, did they really think of themselves as good “agents of change” or was there guilt in exploiting others?

A: It seems to me from everything I have read, apart from the wonderful Fanny Parkes, the real heroine of the Raj, that almost everyone in India certainly thought they should be there, as agents of change, as agents of commerce, as agents of empire.

Q: Having grown up in Hawaii, did you relate at all to your character’s desire to take all the seductive color and beauty of India and recreate it back in England?

A: Growing up in Hawaii, which is not physically unlike south India, did help me to feel comfortable in India from the very start --- I have been there five times --- but it is an utterly different culture. I knew that I could

only write about it as an outsider, which is why Eleanor was born.

Q: You also have a travel book coming out this year: where to?

A: The travel book, just published by National Geographic Directions as part of the series that includes Oliver Sacks and W.S. Merwin and Louise Erdrich, et. al, is about Hawaii. It is called I Myself Have Seen It: The Myth of Hawai’i.

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sentina, July 11, 2012 (view all comments by sentina)
I had a hard time keeping track of who the characters were without frequent reminders, of which there were too few; I never knew that Henry was the diary-writer's brother until I read it here; through the book, I thought he was her husband. I went back and reread the beginning,and she never says he is her brother that I could see.

There were more than 30 un-translated words, without even a glossary, such as sansculotte, zenara, apsara, and chibootra, which I found annoying. Context was not enough.

I was amazed that the English women's lives were ruled by fashion dictates -- they are frequently giving away their gowns because they are suddenly out of style; a great deal of detail is given to the description of what they submit to wearing, such as sleeves that are so tight they can hardly lift their arms.

There is a brief description of the extreme double standard, wherein English men can have children with Indian women, but English women cannot even have male Indian friends.

I liked when the writer's sister becomes "primitive," loving animals and not caring what she wears. There are a couple of very short, but very intense and stimulating, sexual descriptions, which are especially stunning considering the repression of the people of England of the time.

A few times, Moore reverses comments in thought-provoking ways, such as, "... blessed singleness, or is it single blessedness?" which I enjoyed, but there was too little of this.

The book had frequent quotes from something Indian, perhaps a song or a poem -- she never says -- that sometimes seem relevant to the context, but mostly not, such as, "Himalaya and his queen are like chakori birds at dawn -- starved for moonbeams" after a line about someone shooting quail.

Although some of the people in this book seemed to love India because of the colors, land, trees, and animals, I could not imagine wanting to live somewhere as described above, with the misery, both in the people and in the environment of abuse of people and animals, misery, killing, hunger, overcrowding, unbearable heat, huge and swarming insects, tyranny, ego-centrism, selfishness, poverty, wealth, stink, polluted water, slime, maggots,illness, death -- they're written about dispassionately, except once some people cry.

There seems to be an assumption that the reader knows more about the story-line underlying the diary and doesn't give enough information.

Because of my English background, I was actually rather involved in this book, and even though it lacked so much, I still got something worthwhile from it, especially seeing the extensive research done to produce it.
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Product Details

Moore, Susanna
Random House
New York
Brothers and sisters
Historical - General
Historical fiction
Domestic fiction
Colonial administrators
Edition Number:
1st ed.
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
September 30, 2003
8.66x5.92x1.08 in. 1.11 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

One Last Look Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
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Product details 304 pages Alfred A. Knopf - English 9780679450412 Reviews:
"Review" by , "When describing her life in India as an 'endless disorderly feast,' Eleanor might well be describing One Last Look: rich, lush, scattered, repetitive, and wonderfully satisfying."
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