Posts Tagged ‘dual narrators’

When a mysterious and reticent young woman moves into the country abode of Wildfell Hall, with a young son but no husband, the interest and suspicions of the villagers are soon aroused.  Gilbert Markham, a young farmer in the village is intrigued by the newcomer, Helen Graham.  They become friends and before long Gilbert falls for Helen.  However, the other residents of the village start imagining all kind of things about Helen’s past and start spreading gossip and half-truths, especially regarding her apparent relationship with her landlord Mr Lawrence.  Gilbert confronts Helen, and it is only when she allows him to read her diary that he understands her reluctance to make friends or discuss her past – Helen has left her alcoholic and cruel husband, and has taken their son in order that her husband cannot be a bad influence upon him.  But can she ever escape the spectre of her unhappy marriage, and find happiness again…?

Anne Bronte is far less celebrated than her two sisters, Charlotte and Emily.  Most readers are familiar wtih Charlotte’s most famous novel, Jane Eyre (one of my personal favourites), and Emily’s only novel, Wuthering Heights.  (Even people who have not read the books usually have an idea of the storylines,due to the numerous television and film adaptations.)   This is the first time I have read Anne Bronte, and I am at a loss as to why she is less well known than her sisters, because I thought this book was superb.

The narrative has three distinct parts – the first and third take the forms of letters written to an unseen friend, by Gilbert Markham, in which he tells his friend about the mysterious stranger who has taken up tenancy in Wildfell Hall, and the  events surrounding her arrival in the village.  The middle section consists of Helen’s diary entries, which detail the events in her marriage and her flight from her husband.

For the time it was written, this was a very brave subject to tackle – no matter how badly a husband treated his wife, a wife was simply not expected to leave him.  Indeed at the time, it was not possible for a woman to obtain a divorce from her husband – although there was nothing to stop a husband divorcing his wife.  Helen comes across as a strong character, reluctantly but necessarily flying in the face of social convention, and finding herself the subject of salacious gossip rather than sympathy for her troubles.

Comparisons to the works of Charlotte and Emily Bronte are inevitable, and whereas Emily depicted Heathcliff as a passionate and incredibly romantic hero, Anne portrays a far more realistic picture of life with such a man – her husband is certainly attractive and passionate in the beginning, but she soon realises that he is selfish, cruel and concerned more for himself than anybody else.  I rather admire Anne for daring to show this less than savoury aspect of his character.

The characters were extremely well drawn, and while Helen verges on being overly pious and religious, it is important to remember the time that the book was written, when people were expected to be devoutly Christian, and not to go to church was seen as a serious transgression (early on in the book, the local Vicar calls on Helen to admonish her for her non-attenance at church).  Helen does however come across as wilful and strong in extrremely difficult circumstances, and is determined to do what she believes to be right, even if it is not what others believe to be right.  She was an admirable heroine.

Gilbert was a very likable and believable haracter.  He was essentially a decent young man, but perhaps due to his mother who pandered to his every whim, he sometimes could behave in a selfish or childish manner – a fact that he himself was not blind to.  However, this just served to make him all the more believable and realistic.

The other main character is that of Arthur Huntingdon, Helen’s husband.  He does not narrate any of the book himself, but is fully brought to life in Helen’s diary, and was a despicable and ultimately rather pathetic character.

The story had sufficient twists and turns to suprise me on many occasions, and the ending was very satisfying.  There were also moments of unexpected humour, although unlike some other reviewers, I did not see any similarity with the humour of Jane Austen.

Above all, this is an exciting story, with a heroine who was ahead of her time in many ways, but trapped by the social conventions of the time in which she lived.  The book kept me gripped throughout, and I would recommend this without hesitation, especially to anyone who may have read books by the other Bronte sisters, but have yet to give Anne’s work a try.

(For more information about the author, please click here.)

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This is the story of Rose and Ruby Darlen, conjoined craniopagus twins who live in Canada.  Born on the same day as a giant tornado, and abandoned at the hospital by their teenage mother, the girls were adopted and raised by Lovey Darlen, the midwife who helped to deliver the twins, and her husband, Stanislaus (‘Stash’).  The book is narrated mostly by Rose, with occasional chapters by Ruby, and is written as their autobiography, telling about their lives with their adoptive parents, and the difficulties of living as conjoined twins, as well as the love and affection that they feel for each other.  The histories of the characters are also explored.

The beauty of the story is that it makes the reader see the girls as two distinct characters; their conjoinment soon stops being the thing that defines them, and instead their different personalities, likes and dislikes and idiosyncracies become the reasons for how we view them.

Rose is more bookish, and loves reading, writing and baseball, whereas Ruby loves to watch television, and explore local Indian archeology.  She seems to be the slightly more immature of the two girls (although there are moments when she displays real strength of character).  Due to the nature of their condition, Rose seems the more dominant twin, both in terms of personality, and also physically; she has to carry Ruby everywhere, with Ruby’s legs wrapped around her waist.

The girls naturally share a very close emotional bond and deep love for each other, but it is clear that both girls sometimes wish that they were not conjoined, or at the very least, imagine how different life would have been if they had been born separately.

As well as the almost unique difficulties they face due to their physical condition, the girls also face problems that many people would be familiar with (Rose, for instance, tells how she became pregnant and had to give her child up for adoption; something that haunts her permanently).

I found the characters very real and likeable, and especially liked Aunt Lovey and Uncle Stash, who are extremely well developed.  Their human flaws and strengths are well depicted, making it easy for the reader to care about these people.

The writing flowed well, and although the story jumped about between the present day and the past, it was not difficult to follow.  The personalities of Rose and Ruby came through well in their respective narratives, so that I never lost track of who was speaking (it was interesting to see how they both remembered the same events differently, even though it would seem that due to sheer logistics, their memories would be expected to be almost identical).

I didn’t find the book perhaps as moving as I thought it might be, but it was an engrossing read nonetheless, and I would certainly consider reading more by this author.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Micka is a 10 year old boy, who has a hard life to say the least.  His mother can’t be bothered with looking after him, and takes no interest in his education, his father is nowhere to be seen, and at least one of his two older brothers is frequently in prison and physically abuses Micka when he’s at home.

He soon becomes friends with Laurie, a new boy at his school.  Laurie may come from a better background, but his parents are splitting up, and while his mother behaves irrationally, his father is emotionally distant.

Laurie has a vivid imagination, and dreams of cruelty and magic, and as Micka is pulled into his world, the lines between fact and fiction become blurred until both boys find themselves on a seemingly inevitable course towards a horrifying conclusion…

This book was amazingly well written.  It is narrated by Micka and Laurie in turn; in the proof copy I read, each narrator is distinguished by a different font.  However, the difference between the language which the two boys used also distinguished them from each other.

It is certainly a disturbing book to read, which was expected as the book was apparently informed by the Mary Bell and Jamie Bulger cases.  Before we even get to the troubling ending of the story, there are descriptions of physical abuse in the home and cruelty to animals.  However, one of the hardest parts to stomach was the reasoning behind the boys’ actions.

I thought the characterisation of the two boys was excellent.  Micka seemed like an innocent child stranded in a violent world, whereas Laurie was by far the colder and more calculating of the two.

Overall, this is a quick read, but certainly one that will linger in the memory.  Highly recommended – but perhaps not for readers of a nervous disposition.


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