Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Mini Reviews: Wilkie and Chevalier

Over Christmas I gave myself the treat of reading books by two of my favourite authors. We all know Wilkie is up there but I'm not sure I've mentioned how much I love Tracy Chevalier and her novels (I probably have but just go with me). I was a little behind with TC, having discovered her after reading Falling Angels, her third novel. I also have to admit that I have not read Girl With a Pearl Earring - I do not doubt that the book is better (aren't they always?) but, having seen the film, I never felt the urge to read the book (I would never be able to get Firth out of my head). I actually studied Falling Angels (Suffragette high-five) in sixth form and compared it to George Gissing's The Odd Women and, considering it is a book I studied, I loved it and still do. Basically, what I'm trying to say in a ridiculously meandering and roundabout way, is that Tracy Chevalier is a darn good writer and storyteller and if you've not read anything by her then I don't see why you're still reading this when you could be rectifying the sad state of your literary experience.

The Frozen Deep by Wilkie Collins

'Alone! Alone on the frozen deep!'

I stumbled upon a copy of this lesser known Wilkie in Glasgow and obviously picked it up immediately. It is a novella that was first released as a play and performed by Wilkie himself and Charles Dickens. This novella has everything: an ill-fated arctic expedition, a guilt-ridden psychic, love triangles (ish) and  a sacrifice in the name of love (Richard Wardour was the influence for Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities, FYI). The pacing was nice and swift - just what you'd expect from a novella - but not too fast that the climactic scene swings by with no notice. The women were a tad, well, over-feminine in their personalities (hysteria is involved) until they suddenly decided to go against stereotypes in a really pleasing way (ships are involved).

I'm not going to say it is Wilkie's best and I will be the first to admit that it is nowhere near as good as his other works. Having said that, it is a brilliant piece of melodramatic fun and absolutely perfect as a pick-me-up for these chilly winter nights.

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier

'It is less distracting in the silence'

I think my little flurry of excitement above more or less indicates my reaction to this novel. There is something about Chevalier's stories that make you not want to stop reading. They have a very quiet power - there is no extreme drama or endless cliffhangers to keep me turning the pages but I keep turning them with relish nonetheless. I think it is the people she creates. They are so real you can imagine them as someone sat on the bus with you or someone you would pass walking down the street. Honor Bright, the focus of The Last Runaway, is no exception. I loved her as a character. I loved the way she made her decisions and thought about her religion deeply. She is a woman of her time and of her religion and it is important that she doesn't always make the 'right' choices but falls prey to family pressure. Having said that, she is not a wet blanket by any stretch of the imagination. 

I think a shout out for Belle Mills is also necessary. As a support character she is brilliant - to the point and with a completely no nonsense attitude to life. Her presence definitely made the novel much more lively. 

This novel gave me a really fascinating insight into the Quaker religion and the Underground Railroad. Both I knew very little about (I actually knew nothing about the latter) so as well as this being a lovely piece of fiction, it was also truly informative and has piqued my interest in a new to me subject.

Ok, so they were less reviews and more a jumble of random thoughts but hopefully you get the gist. Sometimes even my thoughts are incoherent.

Have you read The Frozen Deep or The Last Runaway? 



  1. For some reason I thought Frozen Deep is another big book from Wilkster. It'll probably be my next Wilkie read! :) Nothing better than hysterical ladies and melodrama once in a while.

  2. I need to read the Wilkie Collins book I've had on my kindle for how long.


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