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Friday, 22 March 2013

The Last Runaway - Tracy Chevalier

As you know my blog has a large number of links to the Book Depository. The affiliation with them gives me 5% of any sales that are made should somebody go to their site from my blog. The books cost you no more they simply give me 5% of the sale as a referral. My affiliation is based on charitable purposes though where every cent of income I earn from any affiliations on my blogs is donated back to a charity of some description. For example, this month any funds earned go to the Oxfam Trailwalker Team I am involved in where four of us are walking 100kms each (as a team) to raise funds for those less fortunate than ourselves. Details of all the charity events I perform (including the Trailwalk) are at my other blog

So why this intro? As part of my affiliation with The Book Depository I am offered pre-publication novels to review. This month I took them up on the offer and was sent “The Last Runaway” by Tracy Chevalier, the best-selling author of “The Girl With The Pearl Earring”. That was a novel I always wanted to read as Vermeer is one of my favoured artists and every time I see the cover I am drawn to see what was inside. Having said that, I’ve never got around to actually picking the book up.

Chevalier’s latest novel was released on 14 March 2013 and set in the 1850’s it follows the tale of Honor Bright, a Quaker who, after a failed courting, chooses to travel from her hometown in Bristol to America with her sister, who is to be married to another Quaker in Ohio. Is Honor the “last runaway”? Of course tragedy befalls Honor’s sister and she is left to struggle as a compliant vulnerable outsider in a world where the terrain and people are harsh.

This novel is set in the last months of slavery and uses the Ohio setting as a crossroad for people escaping slavery in the south, to move to freedom in over the border in Canada:

There’s slave hunters all over Ohio. See, we got a lot of runaways through here. East to west you got settlers moving for more land. South to north you got runaway slaves looking for freedom. Funny how nobody wants to go south or east. It’s north and west that hold out some kind of promise.

It would appear as though the slave underground railroad (people who support and assist runaway slaves) and the honesty and impartial nature of the Quakers and their involvement in helping runaways has been well researched. As are the quilting and hats of the time as a major character who befriends Honor works a millinary, and Honor makes various styles of detailed quilts throughout. With their various Quaker, slave and early American settler references, you can tell that Tracy Chevalier has researched these subjects well.

As you know I don’t add spoilers to my reviews so to go into too much detail about Honor’s plight would be to give too much away as the narrative is quite thin and sketchy. Personally I thought the characters were thinly drawn and half of the time I didn’t understand their motivations. For example to simply tell us one of the main characters is “grumpy”, another a supporter of the underground railway but her half brother a slave bounty hunter and for us to just accept that these occurrences take place without motivation or explanation personally left me a tad flat.

The story is enjoyable, the writing not laboured, nor unreadable (like some best sellers I have attempted to tackle) and although almost formulaic in style and substance it is not offensively so. I can see this one hitting the heights of best seller lists as it covers the romance, domestic life in 1850’s America, slave and Quaker issues quite simply and without judgement.

Not a novel that would normally be on my reading list and I was grateful for the easy reading break from some of the meaty literature that I’ve been tackling of late.

Disclaimer - I received a free copy of this novel courtesy of The Book Depository.

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