Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Guest Book Review: Sarah Stovell - the Night Flower

Reviewed by Lisa Bentley

Two girls are brought together under the worst of circumstances: a prison ship taking them from London to 'parts beyond the sea'. 

Miriam is a Romany girl drawn from freedom in the hills of the North-West to the city to eke a living playing her tin-whistle in a place where her people are despised. When her mother dies - from cholera, the 'gypsy disease' - she's caught breaking-and-entering and sentenced to transportation.

Rose has been brought up to expect more, but when her husband dies and her father is sent down for illegal slave-trading, she's separated from her children and forced to take a governess's job. When she's caught stealing, the judge shows no mercy.

Surviving - just - an appalling voyage, the two arrive just after Christmas into the blinding sun of the strange new island: Van Dieman's Land. Here they are sent to work in a nursery, where women of ill-repute give birth before being sent for correction. The nursery is run by a corrupt, debauched Reverend and his idealistic son, who soon takes a fancy to Miriam. But Rose, her best friend and close confidant, watches jealously and makes plans to reverse their fortunes.

The Night Flower is a story of female prisoners sent to a part of Africa to work off their prison sentences. The two main characters Miriam and Rose couldn’t be more different. Miriam, a Romany gypsy is homeless and was charged with breaking and entering; her reasons were due to needing money to sell for food. Rose, a lady of a higher class, disgraced by her father’s transgressions and involvement within the slave trade industry is forced to work as a nanny; in doing so she has to say goodbye to her own children. She is charged with stealing from the family she worked for. Her reasons for stealing were to get enough money to reunite her family. Both girls are united by their crimes, but how long will they have to pay for their mistakes?

The Night Flower is heart-breaking. I will tell you that up front. It is a harrowing look at Victorian punishment and the cruelty of the judicial system of this period.  It is also a close study of what desperation can make a person do; an insight into human characteristics and nature.

This unique story is unlike anything I have ever read before and had me begging throughout for a better outcome, begging for something different than what I feared was coming. The strong writing had me breathless at points; and it was clearly the control of the writer and the powerful and distinct voices of her characters that kept me hooked, a very important and oftentimes failure of the multi-perspective novel.

However, it is my belief that the true strength of the novel lies in its blurred lines. What is right and what is wrong? How class isn’t representative of being good or bad; and how often our perceptions of people and situations can be wrong. Overall this story will make you think….and be grateful that you don’t live in the 19th Century.

I'd like to thank Drew at Tindal Street Press for sending a copy of this book to Lisa to review.  Amazon links: Paperback or Kindle  

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