CBR15passport book you own (passport complete)
I bought this book a while back as part of a sale. It’s historical fiction, which I almost always enjoy, and it moves back and forth between the late 18th century and present day London. Overall, it’s a decent read, the kind of book that you could finish on a long flight or over a weekend. Its focus is on female characters struggling to deal with dishonest and unfaithful men, and women finding fulfillment in their own work and in female companionship.
Modern day Caroline is an American in London. She is supposed to be celebrating her 10th wedding anniversary with her husband James, but after discovering his infidelity, she makes the trip to London alone. She is hurt and grieving, and she is also worried that she might be pregnant, something she desperately wanted before James betrayed her. Now she is not so sure. On a whim, Caroline joins a “mudlarking” group along the banks of the Thames and finds a strange little blue bottle with a bear etched onto it. Using her historical and literary training, something she had put aside 10 years ago when she married, Caroline goes to the British Library where a maps expert named Gaynor becomes her friend and colleague in trying to figure out the history of the bottle. In no time, they realize it probably belonged to a female apothecary who would have had a shop not far from the Thames. Who this person was and what her fate could have been become an obsession for Caroline, but her research is interrupted by the unexpected and unwelcome arrival of James in London, full of apologies and hoping for a reconciliation.
The other half of the story is about the apothecary Nella and a young servant girl named Eliza. In 1791, Eliza’s mistress sends her to Nella for a special kind of help. Nella learned about roots, herbs, and healing from her own mother, now dead 20 years. We learn, however, that Nella has an underground reputation for her poisons; women who find themselves in desperate situations, especially vis a vis a husband/father/brother or other man, can turn to Nella for discreet assistance in terminating their problem. In other words, Nella is a poisoner who helps women poison the bad men in their lives. Her reason for doing this is explained later in the story, but in 1791, Nella is herself becoming ill and feels that this is some kind of justice or retribution for her assistance in murder. Eliza is fascinated by Nella’s shop, especially the hidden room where the poisons are made and where Nella keeps a ledger filled with the names of all the people she has helped and how. This part of the story seemed really weird to me; keeping evidence of the murders you assisted in committing and naming the women you want to help is just stupid. Nella’s explanation is that she wants these every day women to be remembered, but these women would probably rather not be remembered for murder and would absolutely not want to hang if discovered. This is a critical weakness to the story in my opinion. Anyway, Eliza believes Nella can help her get rid of the “ghosts” that haunt her, and despite Nella’s desire to be left alone, circumstances force her and Eliza to work together and ultimately to try to save themselves from discovery.
Among the parts of the novel that I enjoyed are Caroline’s self reflection and her realization that she has been sublimating her own wishes for a decade. Her husband’s selfishness and subsequent actions seemed pretty realistic to me, too. Nella’s personal story is also interesting, as is Eliza’s. Among the weaknesses, in addition to the above mentioned ledger, would be the speed with which Carline finds answers to her historical questions. I mean it’s just not realistic in my opinion that she would be able to find out so much so quickly about the little blue bottle or that she would be able to find such detailed and pertinent documentation. It all makes for a good tale though. If you can suspend your disbelief about a few things, this novel is a fun ride.