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I enjoyed Helen Dunmore's last novel very much. As with all her work, it's well crafted and a great storyline. However, I found the narrator irritating. She has a way of gabbling her words, and then pausing... so you are dragged along in a stop start manner. She also has the modern pronunciation of saying 'diddunt' (for didn't) as a child would pronounce the word. Yes I'm being picky, but it spoiled it for me, I should have bought the paperback.
23 of 23 people found this review helpful
These are the words on a gravestone in Birdcage Walk, the hauntingly beautiful partially ruined cemetery in Bristol which triggers the story of the fictional Lizzie Fawkes that follows.
This brilliant historical novel opens in 1789 with an un-named man burying a body in woodland on the wild side of the Avon Gorge in Clifton, Bristol - a scene of both menace and beauty - and it is not until the very end of the book that we have the last piece of the jig-saw which makes full sense of it. Lizzie Fawkes, the daughter of the woman in the Birdcage Walk cemetery, has married the building speculator John Diner Tredevant, a dynamic visionary with great plans for building prestigious houses above the Avon gorge. Lizzie's adored mother Julia is a sort of Mary Wollstonecraft radical author married to her second husband Augustus, but her life changes when she becomes pregnant twenty years after giving birth to Lizzie. The birth scene is so detailed and visual that it makes for difficult listening - enough to say that Lizzie is left utterly bereft.
The French Revolution is the vividly created historical background with accounts of the bliss-to-be-alive days longed for by Lizzie's mother and friends developing as time passes into the fearful Terror and the guillotine. The news from the unfolding catastrophe in France parallels Lizzie's life falling apart as she looks after her newborn baby brother, and comes to fear (with good reason) her increasingly controlling and menacing husband who is threatened with bankruptcy as his fabulous plans for building elegant houses on borrowed money disintegrate.
To give more of the story would spoil the tense plot and the final denouement, but there are some outstandingly intense dramatic scenes, such as Julia's confinement and a desperate boat crossing of the turbulent Avon river. But it's not just these scenes: it is the mass of unobtrusive contemporary detail which makes this thoroughly convincing and tactile historical reality, and also the delicacy of the language. (Helen Dunmore is also a poet and her ability to choose words which sing is evident throughout.)
The author's afterword which ends the recording is extremely moving and gives an extra dimension to the words on the gravestone. Emma Fenney makes a good job of presenting this complex work.
It is one to look out for and treasure. I loved it.
22 of 23 people found this review helpful