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I regularly buy books from Amazon, and love the feature that recommends books you may like based on your recent purchases. Browsing through this section I have found some great books. This was one of the books Amazon thought I might like, though I'm not sure which book bought led them to this assumption.
~ Plot ~
Cover The Mirrors by Faye L Booth, tells the story of Molly Pinner, orphaned at birth and raised by her medium Aunt Florrie, during the height of spiritualisms popularity in Victorian Preston.
Molly's life had started poor, in the slums, but at the age of 16, her Aunt and herself find themselves wealthy due to the popularity of her Aunt's 'Talent' of communing with the dead. Her Aunt's untimely death, leaves Molly in charge of the family business, and with her Aunt's final advice ringing in her ears, never to rely on a man, she is determined to be successful and independent.
However Molly's penchant for 'a bit of the other' leaves her in an awkward and unwanted position, and she finds herself married to the owner of several local mills, forced to hand over control of her finances, and the become the subservient Victorian wife she had strived to avoid. As Molly's life takes further away from her poor roots, her friendship with Jenny, who she has known for life and is employed at the mill her new husband owns, is destroyed. And then it appears her late Aunt hadn't been truthful and had been guarding a dangerous secret and one which will endanger Mollie's life.
~ Opinion ~
Ok, I admit it, this isn't the book I thought it was going to be. I was seduced by the idea of a Victorian ghost story centred around spiritualism. Had I took the time to read more of the product details on Amazon, I may have realised this wasn't really the case.
Rather than a ghost story, or thriller, what I actually got is a saga of the Josephine Cox Variety. Whether the author intended it to be so I'm not sure, as the premise is a very good and interesting one, however it never struck me as a serious piece of historical fiction.
Firstly, there is very little spiritualism in this book. While it is the subject of Molly's business and a few seances are held within the story, they are neither enlightening or thrilling. There's nothing eerie or other worldly at all in this book, and even Aunt Florrie's dying promise to provide Molly with a sign she is watching over her with the scent of violets, is completely forgotten after it's mention in the first couple of chapters.
Secondly, apart from some clichéd mentions of calling cards, lace gloves, cotton mills, gold tipped walking canes and the workhouse, there is very little historical detail which sets the Victorian era. Even the dialogue fails to strike me as 19th century, and some of the actions and attitudes of the characters certainly don't either.
An interesting concept is the idea that Molly is a strong, independant woman who is keen to throw the shackles of wifely duties and motherhood and flaunt the ideals of the time both financially and sexually. However Molly instead comes across as weak willed and, to be honest, a bit of a slapper. She can't help but go weak kneed and breathless in the presence of the two men who feature in this book. She dumps the servant boy she is having secret trysts in the seance cabinet with, very quickly when mill owner William Hamilton shows a bit of interest. She has issues with self control, in fact on only their second meeting, she ends up against a tree in a park with her petticoats round her neck. A situation I'm not convinced any Victorian girl, who isn't earning a living this way, would find herself in, no matter how liberal. Sex features heavily throughout the book, there are 'throbbing members, quivering thighs and gasps of delight' (authors words not mine!) in abundance. It's far from sophisticated, rather cringe worthy and childish.
A direct result of the liaison in the park, is that Molly becomes pregnant, and strangely rather than dump her, William asks her to Marry him and she accepts. Molly flits between deep resentment of him taking over control of her business and life, and unbridled passion for her new husband. It's difficult to understand why though, as William comes across as a bit of an idiot rather than a man to get hearts racing. Despite securing a husband and sparing any disgrace, Molly still is revolted by the idea of motherhood and seeks a way to end it. That's fair enough, however I was totally unable to feel any sympathy what-so-ever for Molly. The book tackles abortion, not particularly sensitively and still fails to raise any emotion from me towards Molly, despite my Pro Choice feelings on the matter.
The poor friend, Jenny was a good character, salt of the earth, hard-working, loyal and kind, unfortunately Molly didn't treat her very well either and my sympathies always lay with her, rather than the protagonist who really made me feel she deserved everything she got. The 'twist' when it came, was a very good one, I didn't see it coming at all and it held so much promise of finally becoming thrilling. Sadly, it failed to really take off, and ended up fizzling out with a whimper.
So after all this criticism, you may be surprised that I not only finished the book, but sped threw the 315 pages. Despite failing to be the gothic thriller or ghost story I first imagined, or even being an interesting examination of Victorian class structure, sexual oppression and the suppression of women, I did enjoy it in the same way I find trashy TV movies or take-a-break magazines secretly entertaining. Once I put aside any notion of taking it seriously, I found it fun and light hearted and incredibly easy to read. There where parts that amused me hugely and had me sniggering away, although I'd be inclined to suspect that wasn't really the authors intention. The only part of the book that I found particularly uncomfortable and distastefull was the abortion thread, which I personally found lacked any integrity or sensitivity, something I feel such a subject should never be tackled without.
Cover The Mirrors is Faye L Booth's first novel, and I was somewhat surprised to note on the first page which introduces the author, she was only born in 1980. It seemed very young to begin with, until I realised I was only born a couple of years earlier and just forget my age. I would suggest that the writing did lack some maturity though, however I believe she had an intriguing and original idea for the book, and wouldn't rule out trying any future books she wrote.
So would I recommend? Yes and no really. If you are looking for an intellectual piece of historical writing, tackling controversial issues, then definitely not. Same goes if your expecting a thrilling gothic ghost story. However if you fancy an easy fluffy read, 19th century chick-lit style, with a bit of light porn dashed in for good measure then go for it!
Cover The Mirrors by Faye L Booth