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The Last Runaway, by Tracy Chevalier, Harper, RRP£7.99, 386 pages
When devout Quaker Grace Bright leaves England in 1850 to marry her pioneering beau in America, her sister, Honor, jilted by a callow suitor, tags along to start a new life away from small town gossip. Fever soon takes Grace, however, and Honor finds frontier life a challenge. But after a hasty coupling in a cornfield with sturdy Ohio farmer Jack Haymaker, she is transported “from first greeting to marriage bed” in under two months.
Girl with a Pearl Earring established Tracy Chevalier’s eye for period detail and The Last Runaway offers a lively account of the optimism and struggle of settlers in America’s new farming territories. Into this ferment Chevalier throws the ethical drama of black families fleeing southern slavery. Honor’s naive efforts to help these runaways bring her into conflict with her new family and wider Quaker community, adding a strong moral undertow to this absorbing historical fiction.
Review by James Urquhart
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P, by Adelle Waldman, Heinemann, RRP£14.99, 256 pages
While Lena Dunham’s TV series Girls and Noah Baumbach’s film Frances Ha have reaffirmed Brooklyn’s status as the capital of hipster cool, Waldman’s debut novel offers a more critical look at the district’s arty milieu.
After years of penury, Nathaniel Piven has been paid a handsome advance for his forthcoming book. Just as his career takes off, however, his relationship fails.
Staying close to Nathaniel’s perspective as he muses on life, art and women, Waldman offers the reader a masterclass in authorial irony. Beneath the protagonist’s liberal veneer we glimpse both political incorrectness and a preening self-regard. The latter, Waldman suggests, is common in Nathaniel’s circle. Her writing displays an awareness that the Brooklynites’ middle-class problems don’t amount to a hill of fair trade coffee beans in the real world. This is brilliantly observed stuff.
Review by David Evans