Well, what a compelling story.
It’s 1826. Crowds gather to watch Frannie Langton, maid to Mr and Mrs Benham, go on trial for their murder. The testimonies against her are damning – slave, whore, seductress. And they may be the truth. But they are not the whole truth. For the first time Frannie must tell her story. It begins with a girl learning to read on a plantation in Jamaica, and it ends in a grand house in London. Could Frannie Langton have murdered the only person she has ever loved?
I have been waiting, ever so patiently, to get my hands on the paperback edition of Sara Collins’ debut novel. I love murder mysteries set in the nineteenth century. There is something so fascinating about them. Despite being a century of progression in terms of detection and policing, there is a darkness that still shrouds the century, making it the perfect atmosphere for a chilling story like this. Collins’ definitely didn’t disappoint. She kept me in suspense the whole way through. Never did it become predictable. Never did it become boring. Never did it falter. It was convincing, emotive and powerful.
I am a sucker for servant POV. I am so used to reading about high society in classic literature, so when a story is set in the underbelly of the house, I can’t help but get sucked in. Servants hold a lot of power in their situation and it’s always so interesting to see how writers explore this further. Servants know their masters’ secrets, they know the ins and outs of the house, which makes them the perfect protagonist. Frannie, not only a servant, but a former slave (isn’t household work still slavery, to some degree?) was a complex character to follow. We looked into her psyche from a first-person perspective, and witnessed how her life experiences moulded her into the Frannie Langton.
A murder within a slave narration may seem overdone, but Collins’ manages to bring to light various issues (both contemporary and modern) that couldn’t have been done so effectively otherwise. It asks a lot of important questions: what constitutes as a criminal? What should someone feel guilty for? Is there a limit to feeling this? Looking into the mind of Frannie through her diary allows us to determine whether she is a criminal or a victim of continual abuse (this abuse being down to her heritage and culture). Can some actions be justified? Can we fully trust this perspective? or the oppressive/racist culture that is the Victorians? All these questions are left for us to decide.
My only disappointment is the F/F romance. I thought it added yet another interesting and radical layer to the novel, but it didn’t deliver. There was hardly any chemistry between Frannie and her Mistress, except the odd kiss or nipple action. Physically, it was there. Emotionally, it wasn’t. I wasn’t convinced of their love for a second. I guess this is yet another thing Collins did intentionally – was the love one sided? Completely fabricated? Left unexplored because lesbian relationships didn’t exist to contemporary society? If this was the case, then fine, but as a modern writer it could have been pushed further.
Nevertheless, an utterly brilliant, thought-provoking and powerful story of a woman being judged and condemned by society. Not an unfamiliar story at all, but the slight differences in characterisation, setting or plot, really make the novel what it is. It was stimulating, to say the least. I couldn’t recommend it enough! A four stars from me!
Does this sound like a book you’d enjoy? Let’s discuss it in the comments!
Thanks for reading, Lauren X