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One Last Look Hardcover – September 30, 2003

3.7 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Moore's captivating fifth novel takes the form of entries in the diary of Lady Eleanor, a British aristocrat who travels in 1836 to Calcutta with her sister Harriet and her brother Henry, who has been appointed Governor-general of the colony. Like the narrator in Moore's 1995 thriller In the Cut, eloquent but snobbish Eleanor is not especially likable-she's convinced of her own superiority, even over her own "inordinately sensitive" sister. But she's a fascinating heroine-not only because she teases readers with hints of her unusually close relationship with Henry. During her six years in India, Eleanor undergoes a striking transformation, realizing that her "life-once a fastidious nibble-has turned into an endless disorderly feast." The Eleanor who likened Calcutta to hell becomes a woman able to admire her sister (who quickly falls in love with India), appreciate her exotic surroundings and recognize the folly of her stuffy fellow Englishmen and their attempts to recreate British culture on the subcontinent. She starts to question the idea of empire and to respect Indian culture; by the time Henry's tenure is up, she mourns the loss of her "elation of toiling through isolation and wonder." In precise, elegant prose, Moore vividly evokes the country's beauty and overwhelming otherness, but her exploration of character is even more interesting. Moore spent two years studying England and India in that era, and her novel was inspired by the diaries of Emily Eden, an Englishwoman in Calcutta; as a result, her protagonist is nuanced and convincing. As Eleanor writes in her diary, "The writing of women is always read in the hope of discovering women's secrets"; Eleanor and her creator reveal just enough glimpses to keep readers transfixed.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From The New Yorker

There is a certain kind of historical fiction which excels at evoking time and place—the dresses and the narrative voice just so, the moans of the mango bird in the tree exquisitely described—but, like this novel, Moore's fifth, fails to build into something larger. Henry Oliphant, the new British Governor-General of India, comes to Calcutta with his two sisters in 1836. They discover the country's emeralds, brocades, and phalanxes of servants, but are sheltered, at least for a time, from its grotesque poverty, and from political dynamics that will cause Henry's downfall. The narrative takes the form of a journal kept by the elder sister, and Moore has relied on contemporaneous accounts by British women in India both for factual details and for her prose style. The over-all effect, however accomplished, is so studied that it brings to mind the virtuoso performances that the narrator herself records: the snake charmer, or the monkey who climbs tall trees to pick tea leaves.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (September 30, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679450416
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679450412
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.2 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,622,303 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on November 16, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Basing this story on real journals of the period, Susanna Moore recreates the lives of English nobility in India in 1836, just prior to the reign of Queen Victoria. Lady Eleanor Oliphant, through whose journal the story unfolds, accompanies her brother Henry to India when the family fortunes plummet and the King appoints Henry to be Governor-General in India, his base to be in Calcutta. Reflecting the attitudes of the early British colonialists, Eleanor tells us that she has twenty-seven servants, five of whom are needed whenever she washes her hands. More reflective than some of the other Englishwomen she meets, she admits that "The danger of this place is that I am learning to deny myself nothing." By contrast, her sister Harriet, also on the trip, finds India to be exhilarating, freeing her from the restrictions placed on women of her station in England and allowing her to make a real, independent life for herself.
Charged with winning over Afghanistan for Britain and preventing it from falling under the influence of Russia, Henry and his entourage travel from Calcutta to the Punjab to win the help of a raja there. Accompanied by ten thousand traveling companions, including his sisters and his household staff, Henry's caravan involves ten miles of beasts and men. As they travel in relative comfort west across the subcontinent, Eleanor records outbreaks of cholera and yellow fever, drought, and starvation so severe that 400,000 local people die in one area alone. Many deaths occur en route, and crippling loneliness sometimes overtakes the travelers, but Eleanor finds herself unexpectedly growing from the experience. In Delhi, where they meet the Emperor, Eleanor admits, "I find I am no longer very fond of Englishmen.
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Format: Hardcover
Susanna Moore used the letters and diaries of three Englishwomen in India at the time of the Great Game with Russia as basis for this novel, sometimes using their actual words. The result is a sly, funny, sad, and moving story of transformation and Empire.
Eleanor Oliphant, her sister, and cousin, accompany her brother to India in 1836. The King has appointed brother Henry Governor-General of the colony to help the noble Oliphants after the loss of the family fortune. After all, everyone gets rich in India. The four have been very close all their lives (Eleanor and Henry's relationship is certainly too close) and remain unmarried in their twenties and thirties.
The story starts with Eleanor's second diary, the first having been ruined during the nightmarish trip on the Jupiter, a wretched ship that takes on a great deal of water. "Rather that we were shipped to Botany Bay on a ship full of Irish poachers than this," Eleanor writes. "At least we'd have the pleasure of a little felony."
They arrive in a hellishly hot Calcutta and settle into Government House. There are mobs of servants (her dog has a servant, the servants have servants, there's someone whose job it is to blow on tea to cool it) and shocking insects. Her sister Harriet is enchanted by it all, but Eleanor begins to disintegrate in the heat along with their paintings, books, and clothes. She dabbles in various drugs. She smokes a hookah. Red-faced and frizzy, she presides over sweaty events of state. She also finds her respect for Indians increasing, and her respect for the English decreasing.
Henry is not having a successful Governorship.
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When Lord Henry Oliphant is appointed Governor-General to India in 1836, his devoted sister, Lady Eleanor Oliphant, a 34 year-old spinster, agrees to accompany him as does Harriet, their artistic younger sibling, and also their cousin Lafayette, a lady's man and a libertine. Lady Eleanor keeps a journal in which she recounts the significant events that occur over the six year period they spend on the subcontinent, as well as the more personal changes in character and points of view.

Susanna Moore, a superb writer, brings vividly to life the grandeur, beauty and squalor that was India - a place so far removed from anything the Oliphant's had previously experienced as to be totally unimaginable. The small group of family members arrive in the country, like so many before them, with great confidence in the superiority of their British aristocratic heritage and their right to rule. Each is to change slowly over the years, and as they become accustomed to the heat, the brilliant local color, the extremes of wealth and poverty, the claustrophobic inbred social life, each one grows to love India, and all are transformed.

Elegantly written and well researched, Ms. Moore recreates with great accuracy the language and experiences of an English lady living in early 19th century India. "One Last Look" is loosely based on the lives of a real governor-general and his sisters who went out to India in 1836 to serve the British Empire. The diary is fictional and spans seven years, but primary sources for the narrative are the published writings of sisters Emily and Fanny Eden, who accompanied their brother George, Earl of Auckland, when he was sent to Calcutta as Governor General.
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