Loot by Tania James

A fictional exploration of how and why museums come to own objects, who is remembered in history and who is written out.

In Mysore, India, Abbas is apprenticed to a french artisan clock maker and deviser of automatons. They are contracted to create something for the Sultan and create a tiger mauling a white soldier. This is a real artefact held and displayed by the V & A where the internal workings of the tiger can be seen. The book tells how the tiger came to be in England and what happened to its makers.

Abbas was left in India when his teacher Du Leze returned to France and did not board a ship for Rouen to meet him again for several years, during which the East Indian Company ransacked the country and divided up the spoils, one of which was the musical automaton. It was given to the Governor who then had it shipped home when he died. His wife then displayed it and charged people to come and see it, living in a museum herself of ‘oriental’ objects, but lonely.

Once Abbas searched for Du Leze he met up again with Jehanne, who had become Du Leze’s daughter after her own parents died on board the ship sailing to France. Together, they hatch a plan to steal the automaton back and show it themselves and make money but circumstances conspire against them. Throughout the tale we see Indians pushed out of their country ‘I’m here because you were there’, and the ways in which they have to adapt to fit in to the society. There is Rum who is Lady Selwyn’s estate manager and her lover but who is not accepted when he is not with her. And there is Abbas.

At one point the narrator switches and becomes a British seaman, Thomas Beddicker, onboard the ship that Abbas works on to get to Rouen. Beddicker dreams of being the captain of his own ship and invites Abbas to join him but Abbas refuses explaining that he hasn’t come this far to be a servant of others but to make a name for himself.

The story is a quest, a love story and almost a heist although I don’t think this part is quite pulled off. However, it is an enjoyable imagined account of how the tiger came to be in London.

I couldn’t quite get my teeth into this book although there were times when it made me smile.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *