Laura's Reviews > Blackberry and Wild Rose

Blackberry and Wild Rose by Sonia Velton
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Blackberry and Wild Rose, Sonia Velton's debut, is set in the late eighteenth century among the exiled French Huguenot community of silk weavers in the Spitalfields district of London. The story is told by two female first-person narrators: Esther, the wife of master weaver Elias, who feels isolated in the community because she was not born into it, and her maidservant Sara, 'rescued' by Esther from prostitution and becoming increasingly embroiled in the affairs of the household. This novel joins a large number of others that form a kind of sub-The Miniaturist genre of historical fiction, and I probably wouldn't have picked it up if I hadn't misread the blurb (as the original exodus of Huguenots from France took place in the late seventeenth century, I'd assumed that this novel was set then, and thought this would offer greater scope for exploring interesting questions than yet another novel set in late eighteenth-century London).

Nevertheless, Velton misses a trick with her Huguenot community, because although there's some nice historical detail about the process of weaving silk and weavers' combinations (early precursors of trade unions), there's very little on how this community differs from others around them, and almost nothing on their French origins. This is largely because Esther is not a Huguenot herself, for reasons that remain unclear (Elias marrying outside the community does not seem especially significant to the plot). Anna Maria Garthwaite, the historical figure that her story is partially based on, was indeed English, but given the pretty big divergences between Garthwaite's life and Esther's, there seemed no need to keep this detail.

Otherwise, Blackberry and Wild Rose unfolds on pretty predictable lines, but also frustrated me even more than this kind of novel usually does because of how incredibly unsympathetic Esther is. She's portrayed as selfish and short-sighted, happy to upturn the lives of those around her because of her desire to design new patterns for silk. In the opening chapters, Velton seemed to be using Sara to expose these faults through critically commenting on Esther's behaviour, but by the end of the novel, Sara thinks that 'She had always been kinder to me than I deserved'. If Velton is trying to make a subtle point here about working-class women's internalisation of class privilege, it doesn't land as it should. Unfortunately, this leaves us with one rather dull and unpleasant protagonist and one rather dull and passive protagonist.

Another novel with a beautiful cover that doesn't live up to its promise - two and a half stars.

I received a free proof copy of this novel from the publisher for review.
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Reading Progress

January 23, 2019 – Started Reading
January 23, 2019 – Shelved
January 27, 2019 – Finished Reading

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