By Audrey Thomas
Publisher: Dundurn Press
Published: Feb. 22, 2014
In this historical novel based on real events, Letitia Landon and George Maclean marry in June 1838 and sail off to West Africa. Eight weeks later she is dead from what appears to be an overdose of prussic acid. Her doctor and a chemist swear they never prescribed or made up such a solution.
The mystery is never resolved. The ship that brought Letitia's cheerful letters to London was the same one that announced her death. All sorts of rumours fly around. Complicating matters is the presence of Thomas Birch Freeman, a Wesleyan missionary. A letter he
writes after Letitia's demise causes trouble for George Maclean. Brodie Cruickshank, in charge of the fort at Anamaboe, a few miles away, also seems to have fallen in love with Letitia.
But what really happened to Letitia in this exotic and dangerous place so far away from her home?
This was an interesting look into the very different style of life in the early 1800’s in the Gold Coast (now Ghana). This unusual novel is mainly written from the protagonist’s point of view, but after she has died. Throughout, there are portions that are labeled with the names of the other characters and these portions seem to be from their point of view. I thought it seemed a bit like a documentary and these characters had all been interviewed and then the interviews had all been put together so that all the events were being spoken about chronologically.
I found this story interesting, but I didn’t really enjoy the style in which it was written. I have never read anything else by this author before, so I don’t know if this novel was written in her usual style or not.
I have never heard of L.E.L., a well-known poetess of her time, and I appreciate the time and effort that Ms. Thomas took to do all her research on this woman. After reading Local Customs, I looked for information on L.E.L. and was able to appreciate the creativity that Ms. Thomas put into weaving the narrative of her book.
I gave this book two stars. This was mainly because I did not enjoy the writing style. Others may enjoy this style and those more familiar with this author may thoroughly enjoy this book. This review is my opinion only.
I received this book from Dundurn Press through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. A positive opinion was not required. All thoughts are my own.
Audrey Thomas has published 17 previous novels and short story collections. Her novels Intertidal Life and Coming Down from Wa were nominated for Governor General's Literary Awards and won B.C.'s Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. In 2003 she won the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award. Audrey lives on Galiano Island, British Columbia.