Wednesday, 8 May 2013

The Promise - Ann Weisgarber

The Promise by Ann Weisgarber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Like the author's first book The Personal History of Rachel DuPree which I thoroughly enjoyed this is a historical novel loosely featuring a real event - a devastating storm. I loved this book too, just couldn't put it down.

However this has much more depth than it would seem, it's a novel of place, of time and of people, all of which are described accurately and realistically. We are introduced to two strong and instantly recognizable female narrators. Told in turns by Catherine, an unusual woman at the turn of the century for having chosen to pursue a career as a musician. We agonize with her at the realization that her ill advised liaison with a married man has not just left her abandoned and broken hearted but completely ostracized by society, viewing her with the scorn and contempt afforded to any adultress she is branded a slut and unfit for polite company. She can no longer maintain the place in society she fought so hard to get and her life seems to be going from bad to worse.

It really brings home how limited choices for women were around the turn of the century even when they are leading a more modern and unconventional lifetsyle than is the norm - society has strict moral rules and woe betide anyone who does not adhere to them.

Meanwhile at the other side of the country in Galvseton we hear the drawn out southern tones of Nan Maynard a 25 year old working as a housemaid to recently widowed Oscar and bringing up his son Andre at his Mothers request - a deathbed promise made from the heart that isn't difficult to keep as she already loves little Andre and her feelings for Oscar are more complex but no less real. She will do everything she can to care for the man and boy she is now in charge of.

Catherine searches through her address book to find someone to whom she may turn for much needed help, she is jobless and soon to be homeless, but she finds everyone with whom she is acquainted has either heard the scandalous rumours about her and no longer wants to know her or are busy with their own affairs - so she seems to be friendless also.

Finally she writes to an old admirer - going back almost to her childhood and finds he is willing to rekindle a friendship by correspondence. Writing letters back and forth with her in increasing desperation, when he finally renews his proposal of marriage to her she grasps it like the lifeline it is and accepts. The suddenness of her acceptance gives her little time to prepare and she finds herself thrust into an alien environment hot, remote and unsophisticated, married to a virtual stranger and a reluctant child into whose Mothers shoes she needs to gingerly step.

When the 2 women in Oscars life meet its hardly surprising that they don't take to one another, but as life grows increasingly difficult for Catherine trying to fit in to this strange new life, it's no easier for Nan to adapt to working for her new mistress. Then a massive storm hits and everything could change overnight.

I galloped through this book, turning page after page, yet I savoured every word as a delicious morsel like a box of chocolates you want to cram in your mouth all at once but are so delicious you let each one melt slowly so you get every drop of flavour out of it. A truly delectable piece of story telling elevated way above the run of the mill romance the initial idea suggests to a piece of social history, heartbreakingly relevant to today. Wonderful.

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