Tag: Edinburgh-Set

REVIEW: Susanna Kearsley’s THE VANISHED DAYS

The_Vanished_DaysReading my umpteenth Kearsley novel, I noticed something in her narrative I hadn’t beforehand: a common emotional trajectory that may be characterized as melancholy mood to joyful conclusion. Because they are the most historical of historical romances, their melancholy comes from Kearsley’s initial presentation of her characters as trapped by history. But she builds their strength, intelligence, and virtue and proves to us how these qualities can sometimes defeat history’s choke-hold. She writes about ordinary people (when considered through the lens of big-name, big-battle, big-power sweep) but extraordinary in how they wrest happiness out of what appear to be insurmountable obstacles determined by history and its cruel, expedient masters, men of power over honour. At their centre are women and child characters who are victimized but not victims, exercise agency within constricting circumstances and yet are often trapped by forces beyond their capacity to fight back. In the end, characters escape to a happy life by circumventing evil using wiles without losing their essential goodness. The Vanished Days‘ Lily Aitcheson and her helpers are such. Her story is told in a dual-timeline alternating between childhood/youth and the novel’s “present-day”, the early 1700’s. Her story is narrated by one Adam Williamson, who is tasked to investigate Lily’s claim for compensation as the widow of a man who perished in Scotland’s 1698-Darien-colony-bound fleet. The blurb fills in historical detail further: 

There are many who believe they know what happened, but they do not know the whole of it. The rumours spread, and grow, and take their hold, and so to end them I have been persuaded now to take my pen in hand and tell the story as it should be told… Autumn, 1707. Old enemies from the Highlands to the Borders are finding common ground as they join to protest the new Union with England, the French are preparing to launch an invasion to carry the young exiled Jacobite king back to Scotland to reclaim his throne, and in Edinburgh the streets are filled with discontent and danger. When a young widow, Lily Aitcheson, comes forward to collect her lost husband’s wages, former soldier Adam Williamson is assigned to investigate her petition. As Lily tells her story, Adam has only days to discover if she’s being honest, or if his own feelings are making him blind to the truth. But sinister figures lurk in the background – is Adam being used as a pawn in an increasingly treacherous game?

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A Few Thoughts on a Maybe-Reread of Muriel Spark’s THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE (1961)

Prime_Jean_BrodieIn a single sitting, I recently read (reread? I’m not sure, I might’ve read it years ago, but have no memory of it, so it might as well be a first read) Muriel Sparks’s The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie, Sparks’s satiric take on the cult of personality. Said personality is, of course, Miss Brodie, and yet, by the end, though Sparks pokes, prods, and lampoons her eponymous anti-heroine, might there be a hint of redemption, a nod to Miss Brodie’s transformative power? I’m not sure. In many ways, Miss Brodie is detestable: arrogant, self-important, snobbish, a fascist. This final Brodie fact indicts her and is her downfall. (BTW, if you’re keen on not reading about Brodie with spoilers, I’d stop here.) (more…)

REVIEW: Katharine Ashe’s THE PRINCE

The_PrinceIn 1825 Edinburgh, Miss Elizabeth “Libby” Shaw yearns to follow in her father’s footsteps, to become a doctor, to heal others. But a woman in 1825 Edinburgh, or anywhere in the Western world, cannot apply to Surgeon’s Hall for studies and sit qualifying exams, for the very reason that she is a woman. Miss Libby Shaw strikes an arrangement with Mr. Ibrahim Kent, a society portraitist and exiled “Turk,” actually Ziyaeddin Mirza, Prince of Tabir. Libby will live in his house as his guest, under disguise as Mr. Joseph Smart, surgical student. In return, as Libby, she will sit as Ibrahim’s artist’s model. With this convenient bargain, Ashe begins her fourth Devil’s Duke historical romance and a remarkable achievement it is too. I’d read the first, The Rogue, and liked it very much, but The Prince far surpasses it. The two novels are linked in having admirable, easily-loved stubborn heroines who have a cause and  mission that they fulfill by taking on acts then only enacted by men. Their heroes  are taciturn loners who come to see the rightness of their heroines’ causes and aid and abet them without taking over, dictating, or directing. The novels are linked by questions about what it means to be a woman, a man, and have meaningful work. By virtue of their eccentricity, these heroes and heroines are outsiders yet live within society and are rewarded with a warm circle of friends and family.  (more…)