Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Historical Fiction: The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon

Publisher: Ecco
Date: December 26 2012*
Format: ARC
Source: ARCycling
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review.)
Pages: 172
Reading time: two days

From the back of the ARC: Mary and her three sisters rise every day to backbreaking farm work that threatens to suppress their own awakening desires, whether it's Violet's pull toward womanhood or Beatrice's affinity for the Scriptures. But it's their father, whose anger is unleashed at the slightest provocation, who stands to deliver the most harm. Only Mary, fierce of tongue and a spitfire since birth, dares to stand up to him. When he sends her to work for the local vicar and his invalid wife in their house on the hill, he deals her the only blow she may not survive.

Within walking distance of her own family farm, the vicarage is a world away - a curious, unsettling place unlike any she has known. Teeming with the sexuality of the vicar's young son and the manipulations of another servant, it is also a place of books and learning - a source of endless joy. Yet as young Mary soon discovers, such precious knowledge comes with a devastating price, as is made gradually clear once she begins the task of telling her own story.

My review: The Colour of Milk is told very simply, yet even in Mary's blunt country voice there seems to be some charm and lyricism. She certainly draws the reader into her tale, at first with interest in her everyday life and then with increasing suspicion about what sinister events are to come. Though trouble came from what to me had originally appeared an innocent source, towards the end it became clear how the novel would climax. Still, the conclusion remained emotional and powerful.

Overall, for the briefness of the book, the plot is very well-developed. I'm surprised at how much the author actually fit into the number of pages. In hindsight, though, some elements could have been elaborated upon more (certain characters seemed to just disappear from the narrative after a certain point). Yet the novel still packs a punch with its abrupt, but neatly tied-up, ending. It's one of those books where the conclusion is, in some ways, greater than the rest of the story, with the final pages leaving the reader with much to ponder.

*The Colour of Milk was first published by Fig Tree in the UK in May 2012.

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