Tuesday, 7 April 2015

GREAT READS FOR APRIL, 2015

The Good Girl, by Mary Kubica

The blurb on the cover of this book compares it glowingly to ‘Gone Girl’, and the format is similar, with the main protagonists taking turns at narrating each chapter.  There the similarity ends:  Ms Kubica’s debut novel is not as polished or well-plotted and some of the characters are overblown and unconvincing;  having said that, Ms Kubica’s story still packs a punch, especially at its conclusion.
            Mia Dennett, the daughter of a prominent and powerful Chicago judge is abducted by a petty criminal hired by Dalmar, a gangster who intends to extort a ransom from her father.  Her abductor has stalked her for weeks, learning her daily schedule and habits, and eventually paying her no-hoper boyfriend to purposely work late so that he can make a move on her in the bar where she waits in vain for her date to arrive.  What her kidnapper doesn’t bargain on is the unaccustomed fear he feels for her at the thought of surrendering his struggling and horrified victim to Dalmar and his gang – he knows from bitter personal experience that they are ruthless, cruel and will enjoy themselves hugely with their prisoner. 
            Contrary to his instructions, he flees with Mia to a remote cabin not far from the Canadian border.  He doesn’t have a plan;  he has no idea what will happen to either of them, but he cannot surrender the judge’s daughter to almost certain death.  Dalmar’s kidnapping and ransom plans have gone pear-shaped and he is on the fugitives’ trail, not least because a minion has dared to defy him. 
            The situation is little better in Chicago:  fissures have appeared in the façade that the judge has carefully preserved around his family and personal life:  no-one is as happy as they publicly seem, and Mia’s kidnapping exacerbates all the old resentments, especially as the judge seems coldly unaffected by her plight: to his wife’s horror, he seems reluctant to consider paying any kind of ransom, despite his enormous wealth.  Breaking point is not far off for everyone, and the only certainty is that the situation will end in tears.
            Ms Kubica manages her plot and characters well enough to make the reader hope that that there will be an improbable happy ending;  the growing attachment between Mia and her kidnapper (commonly known as the Stockholm Syndrome) blossoms from dependence to love:  can they escape to freedom across the Canadian border, or will the law – and those wanting to kill them – catch up with them?
            ‘The Good Girl’ is no ‘Gone Girl’, but it is a good read and a very competent first novel.  Recommended.

Flight of the Sparrow, by Amy Belding Brown

           
In the 1640’s the persecuted Puritans left godless England and its sinful ruler King Charles for a new life in the wilds of America.  They founded new colonies on the east coast, renamed by them as New England, and it was their hope that their new settlements would be truly God-fearing and prosperous;  God’s blessed new outpost in a wilderness populated by savages whom they would convert to the Way of the Lord.
            Amy Belding Brown’s wonderful novel is based on the true story of Mary Rowlandson, devout wife of a minister and loving mother of her three children.  They live in a frontier village called Lancaster;  husband Joseph ministers to the needs of his flock and tills his fields, while Mary fulfils her Christian duty to her neighbours and friends as a good Christian wife should.  She seldom questions her husband’s decisions, for in Puritan society the man is head of the household and women are but lowly handmaids, there to obey his every wish and bolster his authority:  he is the master of the family, answering only to men of more authority – and to God.
            Unfortunately for the outpost families, their Indian neighbours are agitating for rebellion;  they rightly object to their hunting grounds being turned into farmland, with access refused so that they cannot feed their families;  they object to the grossly uneven terms of trade, weighted heavily in Englishmen’s favour;   and the zealous attempts at ‘conversion’ are regarded as another form of subjugation by an alien people who are bent on destroying their way of life forever.  The Indians are preparing for war.
            Regardless of Mary’s fears and objections, Joseph leaves Lancaster to journey to Boston to enlist the help of the British militia stationed there;  he is serenely confident that God will protect his frightened family – after all, he is leaving several men behind to guard their little garrison;  they are all good shots even though one is only a boy.  No:  his duty is clear.  He will be back with soldiers in a very short time. They will hold the fort until his return.
            Four days later at dawn, the feared attack begins.  The remaining men defend their families and neighbours bravely, but after their house is set on fire Mary and her children have no choice but to stagger outside, there to witness shocking brutality and the slaughter of her beloved sister and her children.  The God that Mary has worshipped so faithfully all her life is not present on this day.  Piety and goodness have not prevented her capture and subsequent slavery with her children, nor has God seen fit to spare her youngest child, six year old Sarah, who dies in her arms days later from a musket wound. 
The first great jolt to the foundations of Mary’s Puritan beliefs is a heresy she can hardly acknowledge to herself, but as the days of captivity turn into weeks, she finds that her slave status notwithstanding, life among the Indians has a freedom she has never before experienced.  People are kind – to each other, and to her – they share everything they have, even though they eventually face starvation, and they are loving and kind to their children. 
By the time Mary is ransomed back to the English three months later, she knows that her experiences have changed her permanently:  she will never again be the same goodwife, content to live within the constraints of one man’s will.
Ms Brown has written of Mary’s travails with grace and power;  she is one of those rare novelists who has the ability to capture the reader’s imagination so completely that they are by Mary’s side throughout the book (even though Yours Wussy Truly tried to skate over the massacre), sorrowing with her at the death of her loved ones, but cheering her on when bravery and defiance come to the fore.  This is a gem of a book.  Highly recommended.                  
           
           
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