I’ve been meaning to start reviewing books here at Blue Speckled Pup, and now that summer is here you can expect to hear a bit about what I’m reading and what I recommend for you. Most years I read a stupid number of books, and I do so as a lover of literature and as an English teacher; I will present clear and honest opinions here on my little blog. I’ll also try to keep spoilers to a minimum in my reviews, so you still have a reason to go read the things after I’ve recommended them to you.
Today’s book is The Tenth Gift by Jane Johnson. I received it for Christmas from The Electrician’s folks, and it is an engaging piece of historical fiction.
The novel launches when Julia Lovat receives a centuries-old book from her best friend’s husband (with whom she’s been having a seven-year affair) as a sudden farewell gift. She discovers the book, an instructional volume on embroidery for ladies, was used by its original owner Catherine as a make-shift diary in 1624 on the Cornish coast and following her forced kidnapping into slavery. Julia’s story then runs parallel to Catherine’s as the narration shifts between the women and their experiences at very different times in history, eventually revealing connections through their ancestors.
I loved the exploration of the capture of the Cornish townspeople by slave traders, a true chapter of history, about which I had only a vague concept before I read The Tenth Gift. For me, the shifts between Julia and Catherine were much smoother than others I’ve encountered in novels set in both present day and the past. I also appreciated the link created by the art of embroidery between the two, and the presence of The Needle Woman’s Glorie, the little leather-bound book that ties the two women together. As a major bibliophile, I understand the preciousness of certain books. Throughout the novel, I enjoyed the richness of the vocabulary and description, particularly because the author does not water down her use of language; this is done in many historical fiction novels to appeal to a more general audience and ensure accessibility to a wider range of reading abilities, but I find doing so cheapens the novels.
I struggled with The Tenth Gift in several places because I felt the coincidences were just too strong for me and felt contrived at times. I realize this is probably because nothing in the novel is intended not to “simply happen” but rather to fit into part of a much larger whole; however, I felt Jane Johnson pushed it too far in several instances. In particular I struggled with the tie between Robert Bolitho and Andrew Hoskin, which I felt was tossed in as an afterthought, but could have been deepened to create a much more powerful link and to emphasize the impact of the events of the past on the realities of the future. The revelation of the link between the two men is too brisk and makes the ending feel rushed to me, which is a shame given the excellent pacing of the rest of the novel.
My other concern about The Tenth Gift is that it could be read by people hoping to prove their prejudices against Muslim people and used as evidence of the violent tendencies some believe are embedded in the Islamic faith. Careful readers will realize that the book illuminates prejudices and injustices that occur in both directions, but people tend to see only what they are looking for: a dangerous tendency in the current world climate.
Overall, I recommend this piece for adult readers looking for a novel to pull them into an original plot line. The language and some of the subject matter is a little spicy at times, so readers should be prepared for violent events, sensuous topics, and some blunt swearing. Fans of historical fiction will find The Tenth Gift a unique, well-researched novel that straddles the past and the present with memorable fluidity.
Bottom Line: 8/10 Speckles
(Side note: I had to learn a wee bit of html coding to set the novel title in italics because the WordPress button doesn’t affect post titles. I’m feeling very grown up and accomplished right now.)
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