All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley

on August 8, 2018

Susanna Kearsley
Sourcebooks Landmark
2018, 512p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

“The house, when I first saw it, seemed intent on guarding what it knew; but we all learned, by the end of it, that secrets aren’t such easy things to keep.”

It’s late summer, war is raging, and families are torn apart by divided loyalties and deadly secrets. In this complex and dangerous time, a young French Canadian lieutenant is captured and billeted with a Long Island family, an unwilling and unwelcome guest. As he begins to pitch in with the never-ending household tasks and farm chores, Jean-Philippe de Sabran finds himself drawn to the daughter of the house. Slowly, Lydia Wilde comes to lean on Jean-Philippe, true soldier and gentleman, until their lives become inextricably intertwined. Legend has it that the forbidden love between Jean-Philippe and Lydia ended tragically, but centuries later, the clues they left behind slowly unveil the true story.

Part history, part romance, and all kinds of magic, Susanna Kearsley’s latest masterpiece will draw you in and never let you go, even long after you’ve closed the last page.

I’ve been a big fan of Susanna Kearsley’s books every since Marg introduced me to The Winter Sea quite a few years ago now. I was very excited to receive a review copy of this one some months ago but I was actually patient and waited until close to the release date to read it. Last weekend I had a truly lazy day, staying in bed all day to read this. I didn’t realise upon starting it how long it was. It’s definitely a hefty read.

It’s a dual narrative, historical and present day. In the current timeline, Charley is a curator who has recently moved from Canada to Long Island, New York for family reasons. She’s taken a job curating an exhibition at the Wilde House Museum which is undergoing renovations. It’s the former home of a war hero and the museum will celebrate and honour his life. Charley finds herself soon drawn into an intriguing mystery as locals tell her the strange stories that surround the house – that of a ghost and of a tragedy that happened many years before.

In the past, Jean-Phillipe de Sabran is a French Canadian lieutenant fighting in some war I honestly don’t know anything about. I’m not American or Canadian and this war takes place before the British “arrived” in Australia (therefore schooling never bothered to cover it) so I have to admit, I’d never actually even heard of this war. I’ve talked at length in various reviews about how bad my historical knowledge is and this is another example! This is prior to American independence anyway and Jean-Phillips along with another man seem to be some sort of very gentlemanly prisoners of war where they are billeted with American families. Apparently American/British prisoners of war were billeted with French families in Canada or something, it’s all very civilised. Jean-Phillipe doesn’t speak English but the man he is billeted with does, so he acts as a translator although Jean-Phillipe often finds this frustrating as he feels his fellow lieutenant is not translating everything, or with accuracy. Jean-Phillipe is also French Canadian whereas the other man is French French and this itself seems to suggest that they are very different and that the French French lieutenant looks down on the French Canadian Jean-Phillipe. The daughter of the house, Lydia, has reason to be resentful of soldiers of the opposing side and she’s dead against the men being billeted in her own home. Despite this, Jean-Phillipe is quite taken with Lydia and he wishes to get to know her.

I found all of the historical stuff quite interesting but I have to admit that at the same time, it felt quite slow. There’s a lot of information to process in both timelines as well so at times this is quite a dense read. It takes rather a long time for things to ‘progress’ in the historical portion of the novel. Neither Lydia nor Jean-Phillipe speak the other’s language and their interactions are so minimal, I just never really got to the point where I think I got invested in their future. I would’ve liked to become invested in it, but I don’t know, it just wasn’t enough for me. We are privy to both their thoughts and I enjoyed that but their interactions are so limited. I suppose despite really not speaking each other’s language they learn each other’s true characters by observation and Lydia does have to overcome a rather large (and understandable) prejudice to see the sort of man that Jean-Phillipe is and that’s admirable. But it still left me wanting.

I quite enjoyed the modern day story. Charley is undertaking something quite challenging, both at work and out of it. Her appointment was not unanimous and she deals with animosity of several members of the board and has to prove herself and her theories at every meeting. I really liked her and I also thought her eventual love interest was wonderful. There’s a brief connection in this story to a character from a previous Kearsley book and I do wonder if we might see that character in a book of their own one day. Charley’s family situation is interesting as well and I admired her for stepping up at a time of grief to really try and shoulder responsibility and provide support and stability.

I did enjoy this and it’s meticulously researched and written but I just didn’t find myself drawn into the historical aspect with the same intensity as with prior Kearsley novels. Perhaps it was because I was lacking in knowledge myself, perhaps it was because the interactions just weren’t enough for me. The modern day story definitely kept me involved though and I found that I really loved the little ‘twist’ at the end. That way very well done.


Book #131 of 2018

5 responses to “Review: Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley

  1. I wonder if this is the same war that is at the start of Poldark where Ross, the main character, has been away fighting in? You’ve got me thinking now…

  2. Marg says:

    I am still going to have to read this one. I can’t not!

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