The Painted Cage

Synopsis

At ten-thirty on the morning of January 5th 1897 the trial begins of Amy Redmore, charged with murder of her husband Reggie. Two warders with a rikisha collect her from the prison in The Settlement, the foreign sector of Yokohama, and take her to the British Consulate where, in a courtroom packed with curious onlookers, a bizarre story unfolds.

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The Painted Cage

Amy and Reggie Redmore meet at a Hunt Ball in Somerset when she is twenty and he is thirty-five. Dissipated by years of travelling and living in the Far East, he recognises at once the suppressed sensuality in Amy that will later be her downfall. She in turn, seduced by his maturity and by the hint of hidden violence in him, persuades herself that she is in love, and marries him against the wishes of her parents who see only that he has neither breeding, background nor money — where — as Amy herself is an heiress

Marriage takes Amy from the cool green fields of Somerset to a humid, dusty town up country on the Malay coast and from there to Japan where Reggie is to take up the post of Secretary for the Yokohama United Club. Already she has learned some disturbing things about her new husband. He has a mistress by the name of Annie Luke, and a child from that liaison. Secondly he is an arsenic addict and habitually takes massive doses — more than enough to kill a normal man.

But the real trouble begins with their new life on the Bluff, where the British all live in segregated splendour. Reggie is out all day with his work at the Club and at night he is lost to Yokohama’s social whirl and the temptations of the town’s notorious pleasure quarter. Amy, with her freshly awakened sense of independence finds new friends, and more significantly she makes enemies — people who when the time comes will brand her publicly as an adulteress and a murderess

The Painted Cage is based upon a true story and historical facts have provided a framework within which the tragedy of a Victorian woman who becomes the victim of her own sensuality, is explored.

Reviews

‘…the scope of this novel and …its various beautiful images of imprisonment make the book its author’s most substantial achievement…’

Times Literary Supplement 21st Nov 1986.

‘What begins as a readable, very ordinary tale, acquires edge and depth in the telling.’

British Book News October 1986.

‘Meira Chand writes with great power…she uses a picturesque language that is both exotic and spare.  It is an impressive novel.’

Women’s Review November 1986

Excerpt

From Chapter One

They had come at nine-thirty that morning for her, two warders with a rikisha.  The day was bright and cold.  A wind from the sea cut across The Bluff, there was no warmth from the sun.  They set off in procession slowly, one warder in front, the other behind.  It was easier to run and walk with a riskisha.  Amy watched the stress upon the runner’s shoulders beneath his short cotton coat.  He shivered in the wind, his feet bare and in rough straw sandals.  He was a thin fellow with a consumptive cough, yet he might live longer than she.  The brutal simplicity of his life now seemed a thing to envy.  Amy smoothed down a pleat of her skirt, her clothes were those of mourning.  The oilskin hood of the rikisha  was up, she could not see much of the road.  People stopped and stared.  She had no wish to see their faces.  The Native Town was quiet, the deadness of the New year holidays still thick upon the trade, but in the Foreign Settlement all was life; a ship with the mail was soon to dock and called loudly from the bay.  Amy Redmore was pulled slowly don to the post office end of Main Street.

She concentrated on her face, so that it might be like a Japanese face, a smooth wall before emotion.  This was how she must be throughout the next weeks, devoid of expression.  Cruel eyes would search her now; they would knead her for cracks from which to squeeze out the soft, naked grubs of truth.  Their truth.  She drew back in the darkness of the hood then, under the rickety oilskin ribs that reminded her of bat’s wings.