Well, it’s been a while since the last “Reading…” post (Killing Williamsburg was the last one!), so I thought it was about time I wrote one. In fairness, I’ve not done too much reading ‘for fun’ recently, and some of the books I have manaaged to squeeze in between reading for my courses have been… less than inspiring. Boo. The Night Flower, however, was extraordinarily good.
Written as part of a Creative Writing PhD, Sarah Stovell’s novel is set mainly in Van Diemen’s Land, otherwise known as Tasmania, where Victorian convicts were sent to ease overcrowding in Britain’s prisons. Both Rose and Miriam are sentenced to seven years transportation, after which they will be allowed to return, if they can afford to; Rose for stealing from her employers in her job as a governess, and Miriam, a Gyspy girl, for burglary. Once they get to Hobart, they are taken to work in the nursery, where convict mothers give birth and spend six months with their babies before being sent back to the worst levels of prison, without the babies, as punishment for having found themselves “with child whilst convicts”. Rose and Miriam become unlikely friends, but Rose has other plans for her time in Van Diemen’s Land, and does not intend to be seen as a convict woman for long.
I found Miriam a far more likeable character than Rose, especially as the novel progressed. There are no fairytales here, but lots of questions of morality, with some Victorian Christian ideas thrown in, and whether the people you trust are the ones you should. I loved the character of Ma Dwyer, the landlady of the pub and brothel across the street from the nursery – she and Miriam were by far my favourites.
I’d started reading this a couple of weeks ago, before I got buried under a pile of books on racial passing for my essay, and last night (having handed my essay in, yay!), I decided to reward myself with some non-research reading. I read the rest (from the fifty or so pages I’d made a start with) in one go, and finished it at about 3am, before going to bed and dreaming about being a convict in Australia. I love when a book grabs you so much that you can’t put it down, and I’m still thinking about Miriam and Rose this morning. I don’t want to give too much away, but the ending of the book was perfect, if unhappy, and stayed totally true to the story. If the ending had been different, I don’t think it would have had as much of an impact.
Next on my To Read pile is Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy, Snow, Bird, which I am SO excited to read. I am literally going to eat books up over the whole of my Christmas break, so if you have any recommendations for me, let me know! As ever, all the books I’m reading are over on Goodreads.