Penguin Audio (Unabridged)
Narrated by: Jayne Paterson
Released April 4, 2013
Length: 12 hours and 50 mins
Rich in atmospheric details, this novel transported me to Africa in the late 1800s. When Frances Irvine's father dies suddenly, she is an orphan left destitute, feeling herself forced to marry Erwin Matthews, a young doctor, who she knew as a boy when her father showed him charity and he stayed with her family while he pursued his education. She travels by ship to meet him at Cape Town in Africa where he is practising as a doctor. But on her voyage she meets the charismatic and handsome diamond trader named William Westbrooke. With these two very different men in her life, one who stirs passion in her and the other whose very way of living is a testament to his moral ideals, Frances learns the hard way about the expectations of society, marriage and her own heart.
I was captivated by this novel. Frances is a complex character, naive and sheltered, having lost her mother young and been brought up by an Irish father who loved different cultures and charity. When she finds herself alone, with her mother's relatives not wanting to take her in, she decides to go to Africa to live as the wife of Dr. Matthews, even though she does not want to. Being a gentlewoman, she doesn't know how to cook, clean or do anything useful except play the piano. Life in Africa is hard and she resents her husband. She craves passion and freedom, thinking she would have it with William Westbrooke.
The story takes many turns, making me wonder where the story would lead. There were times when I wanted to shake Frances who was blinded by fear and selfishness, but also hardship. I love stories that show character growth, and this is evident with Frances, although it came at great cost because of her poor judgement, which she finally acknowledges. Both Erwin and William were characters seen through her eyes and they seem to change before us too as she changes.
McVeigh has written a novel that explores many issues and does it deftly. South Africa in the early 19th century is filled with greed, prejudice, and violence as the British take full advantage of the diamond mines to fill their pockets. Her descriptions are brutally honest at times, but add beauty and depth to the novel as well. In essence, this is a coming-of-age story set among an unforgiving setting.
I listened to the audiobook version and loved the narration by Jayne Paterson. She captures the atmosphere so that I felt I was right there on that swaying ship in the sea storm or among the gritty dust of hot Africa. Her voice brought out France's disdain but also her naiveté, and the voice of British society quite well.
A compelling novel filled with lush descriptions, flawed characters and the hardships of colonial Africa, this debut novel has set Jennifer McVeigh as an author to watch for in the literary world.
Note: This book is rated P = Profanity for religious expletives and S = explicit sex scenes and V= violence, both implied and briefly seen in the mines against the Africans.
Reviewed by Laura
Disclosure: Thanks to Penguin Audio and Audiobook Jukebox for sending me this audiobook for review. I was not compensated in any other way, nor told how to rate or review this product.
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