When Charlotte Brontë died, she left 20 pages of a novel behind. Clare Boylan decided to finish it. A little girl is enrolled in a private girls' academy. She is shy and reclusive, but the headmistresses make much of her because it's obvious that her benefactor has money. Trouble arises when her benefactor can't be found and the girl can't--or won't--tell anyone anything about herself.
I have to say that this novel stayed true to the whole Gothic, melodramatic feel that I associate with the Brontës. There were all kinds of improbable twists, turns, loops, and coincidences. Boylan was much more explicit than Charlotte Brontë could have been. Not that she was explicit, it just seems that some things weren't referred to, even obliquely, in those times. I did pick out where Charlotte left off and Boylan took over, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well it did all fit together.
There were a lot of chapters covering the back stories of the supporting characters. They were absolutely necessary, but since I didn't know that until the end, I was mostly frustrated and wishing I could get on with the "real" story.
I would have rated this a little higher if I could have liked Emma a little better. But I really, really didn't like her. She was all "Woe is me!" and "All is ashes." She kept going though, through all her troubles, so I had to admire her for that, but would a smile really have killed her? And her world view was stark black and white. She did not see or acknowledge any shade of gray. She was very unforgiving and intolerant. If this character had been written in Jane Eyre's place, she would never have forgiven Mr. Rochester for lying about his marriage and that would have been the end of that.
But I did like Isabel Chalfont. Her life was never easy either, but she made the best of it, learned what she could, found happiness where she could, and tried not to dwell too much on things she couldn't change.
I think fans of the Brontës, who have read all their work and wish they could read more, will actually like this. Just don't expect anything other than doom and gloom from Emma.
Reviewed August 9, 2009
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Friday Flashback Reviews are a weekly feature here on The Introverted Reader. These are old reviews I wrote on GoodReads. Thanks to Angieville and her Retro Friday Reviews for the inspiration and encouragement!
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