Canongate 2020, Paperback
I found it almost impossible to tear myself away from Frannie whose voice resonated in my head long after reluctantly putting her down.
It was not difficult to create a place for her on my book shelf; Frannie finds her sisters in Jean Rhys’s “Wide Sargasso Sea”, Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, and even Toni Morrison’s “Beloved.”
In terms of suggesting a genre, literary commentators waver between Old and New Gothic. The novel is also historical fiction, moving between a Jamaican slave sugar plantation, ironically called “Paradise” and Georgian England, reeking with street cries as well as being an exposé of Enlightenment research into Race and Intelligence.
The real strength of the novel lies, for me, in the characterisation of Frannie. She is the heart, soul and voice of the narrative, an angry agent of change in a prejudiced world, driven by her refusal to accept things as they are. In fictional terms, possibly even an unreliable narrator. We may well sympathise with her version of events, her love affair with her mistress or her versions of the dual murders which see her in Newgate Prison awaiting her end (and the end of the book/her narrative) but this is an aspect of the novel I really enjoyed and which I took to be the writer’s thematic underpinning; in effect: who tells whose history? And is it possible for eyewitness versions to be untrue?
In this review, I have assiduously avoided telling the story or unveiling the plot twists and turns. I regarded these as potential spoilers and I can only conclude by saying that I and a couple of friends have barely been able to put the story down. Indeed, it has become the book I currently give to friends.
Morag Charlwood, Book Review Editor