Review by Booklist Review
Donoghue (Haven, 2022) pays homage to the nineteenth-century English diarist Anne Lister, known as "the first modern lesbian," who set Donoghue's writing life on course more than two decades ago. At the start of this novel of a forbidden love affair, Eliza Raine is older and basically decaying in an asylum for the mentally ill, hanging on to memories of her treasured girlhood. Donoghue spins back in time to when Eliza and Anne Lister meet and fall in love as boarding school students in York, England, in the early 1800s. A mixed-race orphaned heiress from India worried about her place in English society, Eliza had always colored within the lines. But daredevil Lister urges her to look beyond the straitjacketed life they lead, and their love transforms Eliza even as Lister goes on to have many affairs. The beauty of Donoghue's thoroughly researched novel rooted in Lister's famous diary lies in the ways it explores how unequal the effects of love can be on two souls. "The present is a waiting-room with only one window, facing back, offering a fixed view of the past, like the inerasable lines of a woodcut," Eliza mourns. It's truly a tragedy when your life's best moments are already in the rearview mirror.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Donoghue is always a hot-ticket author, but the origin story for this powerful tale will stir extra interest.
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Donoghue (Haven) returns with an impressive story inspired by Eliza Raine, who was written about in Anne Lister's coded diaries about her lesbian love life. At the beginning of the 19th century at a chilly boarding school in Yorkshire, 14-year-olds Eliza and Anne share a garret near the servants' quarters. Born in India to an Indian mother and an East India Company man, Eliza has been sent to England for "finishing" by her father, who is subsequently lost at sea, leaving her and her sister with a small fortune and in the care of guardians. Anne is vibrant, defiant, and smarter than most of the other "Middles" in their class, and she soon draws the observant but reserved Eliza into her orbit. In Anne's presence, Eliza grows in confidence and the two become inseparable as their friendship turns sexual. The bonds that form between the two girls ultimately lead to Eliza's tragic undoing, and she ends up in a mental asylum. Donoghue makes good use of her choice to delve into Eliza's perspective rather than Anne's by exploring the steep cost for her protagonist of tethering herself to a rebel. This melancholic love story is imbued with deep feeling and generosity toward its characters. (Aug.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review
An ill-at-ease schoolgirl at a 19th-century boarding school finds love with her swashbuckling roommate. In the latest of her fact-based historical novels, Donoghue strikes an unabashedly romantic, dreamlike tone with an opening line deliberately evocative of Rebecca. "Last night I went to the Manor again," Eliza Raine writes to her former lover, Anne Lister, a decade after the two met in 1805 as teenage students at King's Manor in York. Sent from Madras to England at age 6, the product of a "country marriage" between an Indian woman and an East India Company employee, Eliza is painfully aware of how her brown skin and illegitimacy mark her out among her privileged classmates even though her father's death has left her heir to a modest fortune. She does her best to be the perfect student--until Lister arrives and is placed in her garret room. Self-confident, rule-breaking Lister both fascinates and frightens Raine, from her insistence that they call each other by their surnames like schoolboys to her casual disrespect for the teachers. Yet Raine comes to relish the spirit of adventure her new friend has brought into her life, and eventually the two embark on an ecstatic physical relationship. The story of the girls' deepening bond is told in third-person chapters interspersed with Raine's anguished letters to Lister, in which it quickly becomes clear that at age 24 Raine has been confined for some time to an asylum. We don't know why until the very end, but it's clear in the school chapters that her growing sense of self-worth is bound up in her love for Lister and might not survive their parting. Donoghue draws a wonderfully rich portrait of boarding school life, both a mirror of the outside world's social hierarchies and a hothouse of complex interactions among girls striving to become women. As always, her narrative is grounded in sharp observation, strong characters, and nice period detail. She also tenderly evokes passion between two young women, though Raine's perpetual insecurity and timidity eventually become as wearying for the reader as we suspect they may have for Lister. Not quite on the level of Donoghue's very best work but nonetheless a treat for her many fans. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.