It is meant to be a celebration but it ends in tragedy. As fireworks explode overhead, Evelyn Hardcastle, the young and beautiful daughter of the house, is killed.
But Evelyn will not die just once. Until Aiden – one of the guests summoned to Blackheath for the party – can solve her murder, the day will repeat itself, over and over again. Every time ending with the fateful pistol shot.
The only way to break this cycle is to identify the killer. But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes in the body of a different guest. And someone is determined to prevent him ever escaping Blackheath…
As it appears in the image, I read ‘The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle’ by Stuart Turton and not ‘The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle’ apparently. It seems that I read the British edition, hence the difference in titles. Nonetheless, it doesn’t matter much as long as Evelyn Hardcastle dies more than seven times! This is the author’s debut novel and it turned out to be a mighty impressive one, winning the Costa book awards in 2018! It took him more than two years to write the book and I think that’s pretty justified, given the complex plot and characters. You have to render your utmost attention while reading every chapter as they depict the same day over again but from eight different perspectives.
The story is about solving Evelyn Hardcastle’s murder, in a mansion near to a forest in Britain, amidst a party, set around 1920s. As the blurb says, Aiden Bishop wakes up in the body of eight different guests and relives the same day over. His task is to find out who wants to murder Evelyn Hardcastle in lieu of his freedom from Blackheath, the mansion. There’s Aiden, the mysterious Anna, Evelyn and eight other hosts – a corsage of peculiar characters with secrets of their own. There’s love, murder, plots, lords, a potential marriage, a not-so-forgotten death and deceit. There’s also this fantastical phenomenon of time loop – reliving the same day, and body swapping (well, not exactly). It’s a whirlwind, really.
As a fashion buyer at one of New York’s most glamorous department stores, Dana McGarry is a tastemaker, her keen instinct for fashion trends and innovative ideas coupled with a razor sharp business sense. But like the elegant and conservative store that employs her, Dana is caught between two eras—between being liked and standing her ground, between playing by the rules and being a maverick. Dana is sensitive and beautiful, but what you see is not what you get. Behind the cool and attractive facade, Dana is both driven by her need to control yet impeded by her expectation of perfectionism. As she competes to replace women at the top of their game, she is challenged by jealous colleagues. And when a wealthy love interest wants to open doors and support her ambition, she embraces Coco Chanel’s mantra of “never wanting to weigh more heavily on a man than a bird.” As the women’s movement paves the way, Dana finds a path to the career she wants at the expense of happiness that was not meant to be.
Steward captures the nuances of 70s life in New York City and provides the perfect backdrop for an independent woman determined to make her mark. What Might Have Been is a story that transcends any period.
While I have read books covering various industries like hotels, automobiles, hospitals, and even films – fashion is certainly a first for me. A novel that is set in the fabric and fashion world of New York City and in one of my favourite decades – the ’70s – there wasn’t any reason I would turn down this one! And might I add that Lynn Steward has a pretty impressive way of writing her Dana McGarry series. Gorging on What Might Have Been for the last two days, I’m quite tempted to go back and read the #1 in Dana McGarry series – A Very Good Life.
New York City is the epitome of fashion with names that we revere all around the world. I have been to the Fifth Avenue and Manhattan’s high end stores and it has left me awestruck with the amount of hard work that goes behind all the glitz and glamour. With the help of cutting edge technology, using fabrics and designing them has become easier in this millennium. But how did it all work in the 1970’s? How did women working in fashion make their way through an outright competitive industry? Dana McGarry and her journey gives an insight into that era and I think it has been captured beautifully by Lynn Steward who has worked as a buyer.
Calcutta is arguably the culinary heaven of India, with Delhi and Hyderabad as close contenders. The mention of culinary heaven must take you to an olfactory, ocular and gustatory paradigm of experience. It should leave you with a phenomenon, not just an eating experience. Calcutta is pretty much capable of guiding you through an unforgettable culinary tour comprising of unimaginably varied food. You will find almost everything under the sun, especially with nuovo restaurants offering both world and local cuisine. But it is the heritage that still reigns the city’s food map. Allow me to introduce you to, and enlighten about five unique dishes quintessential to what we call ‘Calcutta cuisine.’ While you can still make/cook all of these at home, they are best tasted and tried at restaurants/street corners.
Kabiraji Cutlet – Most of us have been induced to believe that the wonderful, our own Kabiraji Cutlet has been derived from something called the British ‘Coverage Cutlet’. I’ve believed this blindly since time, but as I delved deep into the beloved Kabiraji Cutlet roots, it seemed Coverage Cutlet didn’t exist at all. To know more, read this wonderful article at Presented by P. I’d keep the discussion about the origin and etymology of Kabiraji Cutlet for later, and concentrate on the making and availability.
1631, the Empress of India Mumtaz Mahal has died. Yet, rather than anoint one of his several other wives to take her place as Empress of India, Mughal King Shah Jahan anoints his seventeen-year-old daughter Jahanara as the next Queen of India. Bearing an almost identical resemblance to her mother, Jahanara is the first ever daughter of a sitting Mughal King to be anointed queen. She is reluctant to accept this title, but does so in hopes of averting the storm approaching her family and Mughal India. Her younger siblings harbor extreme personalities from a liberal multiculturalist (who views religion as an agent of evil) to an orthodox Muslim (who views razing non-Muslim buildings as divine will). Meanwhile, Jahanara struggles to come to terms with her own dark reality as the daughter of a sitting King, she is forbidden to marry. Thus, while she lives in the shadow of her parents unflinching love story, she is devastated by the harsh reality that she is forbidden to share such a romance with another. Mistress of the Throne narrates the powerful story of one of Indias most opulent and turbulent times through the eyes of an unsuspecting character – a Muslim queen. It uses actual historical figures to illuminate the complexity of an era that has often been called India’s Golden Age.
Historical fiction is one of the most difficult genre to delve into. You can’t have too much of history or too much of fiction. Any extreme will turn it into a drab history book or a complete fiction. Much kudos to Dr. Ruchir Gupta for choosing a very unusual subject – Jahanara Begum for his book. A quick recap into history and you’ll find that Jahanara was the daughter of Shah Jahanand Mumtaz Mahal, elder sister of Aurangzeb and the first crown princess of India.
The book covers Jahanara’s journey from teenage till her last days. It is a very comprehensive account, more intriguing as its written in first person. The reader feels like residing inside Jahanara’s heart and brain all the time. I must say I’m very impressed in the way Dr. Gupta has approached the subject. The fine line between fact and fiction is so well blurred at places that readers would doubt their own knowledge of history.
Jahanara Begum has been a fairly neglected character in history. Many of us might not have heard her name at all. But her importance in Indian and Mughal history is brought up beautifully in this book. Readers traverse through Jahanara’s life with each important incident beginning with her mother’s death. After Mumtaz Mahal’s death, Shah Jahan was devastated and became a loner. Jahanara held the family, her brothers and father together, and as a result was crowned the Princess of India, on the throne of the dynasty. Her life became important than anybody else in the kingdom, but at the same time, she was forbidden to marry any man according to Mughal rules.