Kipling and Trix by Mary Hamer
Courtesy Booktasters in exchange for an honest review
Historical Fiction can expand our view of actual events and the people involved in them. They can fill in the gaps between the known and the speculation. They are also tasked with entertaining the reader. In one of these missions Kipling and Trix succeeds and in the other fails.
Rudyard Kipling is one the great writers who came out of the British Empire. And it was the Empire that was his crucible of creation. He was born in India, spent several years there as a boy and returned as an adult. The exotic (at least to the British) peoples and lands of India were the fuel with which he created The Jungle Book and Just So Stories, among others. This is the known portion of the historical fiction in Kipling and Trix.
What I, and probably many others, did not know was Kipling's younger sister Alice (nicknamed Trixie) was also a talented writer. She was overshadowed by her brother’s fame and discounted because of her gender. She wrote honestly about her family, even using false names, but was criticized by her family for airing private issues in public. Her husband felt her writing had it’s place which was only in their house and did not appreciate her publishing any of it.
Kipling and Trix is the story of the siblings. They struggled to learn to live in English society opposed to the more relaxed atmosphere. As they grew to adulthood, they remained close, although Kipling did not approve of his sister’s choice of husband. Trix suffered from some form of mental illness. It is hard to say exactly what her diagnosis would have been in modern terms. Trix’s illness was treated as weakness. It was not discussed outside the family. The blame was placed firmly on her by society although her brother did try to understand. As Kipling rose to win the Nobel prize and become the close friend of King George V, Trix diminished under the weight of her illness and society’s expectations.
There were many things I learned through reading this book. Chiefly the existence of Trix and her close relationship with Kipling. I also learned of the terrible conditions they lived in while they were in England and their parents in India. This is where the book succeeded. Where the book failed was in the entertainment. It was not a page turner. I did not connect with Kipling or Trix. This may be a failing on my part since I am ignorant of India’s history and especially the British Colonial period. Some of the nuances of the story may have gotten past me. I would still recommend the book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and Rudyard Kipling’s writing.