*I received a free ARC of this novel, with thanks to Viking Books UK / Penguin Random House. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: ‘They say I must be put to death for what happened to Madame, and they want me to confess. But how can I confess what I don’t believe I’ve done?’
1826, and all of London is in a frenzy. Crowds gather at the gates of the Old Bailey to watch as Frannie Langton, maid to Mr and Mrs Benham, goes on trial for their murder. The testimonies against her are damning – slave, whore, seductress. And they may be the truth. But they are not the whole truth.
For the first time Frannie must tell her story. It begins with a girl learning to read on a plantation in Jamaica, and it ends in a grand house in London, where a beautiful woman waits to be freed.
But through her fevered confessions, one burning question haunts Frannie Langton: could she have murdered the only person she ever loved?
A beautiful and haunting tale about one woman’s fight to tell her story, The Confessions of Frannie Langton leads you through laudanum-laced dressing rooms and dark-as-night back alleys, into the enthralling heart of Georgian London.
Breathtaking, spellbinding, haunting.
Not only is the cover a thing of beauty, but the story is a rich tapestry charting the rise and fall, and rise again, and teeter on the precipice, of the titular Frances Langton.
Frances Langton who is owned in every way possible (she is child, she is slave, she is woman, she is mixed race, she is servant, she loves ‘not wisely, but too well’) and yet who carves her own path anyway. The story is told direct from Frannie’s own pen as she awaits her fate in a jail cell, on trial for murder. Here we start then, with the prisoner, and then follow as she takes us back to her beginnings in Montego Bay and relives with us the steps that led her to the current state of affairs.
One of the most compelling aspects of the book is the way the main character actively repels any sympathy or pity, no matter how poorly she is treated. Her pride and dignity force the reader instead to look to their own historic shame and offer her only admiration and recognition as a wonderful, flawed human being; an individual with strengths and weaknesses, love and hate.
Ultimately this is a love story, just not necessarily a love story between two people. More, Frannie’s love story with life and living (no matter the hardship) and her anger at the unrequited unfairness of being a woman, a black woman, an impoverished black woman, in a world owned and run by rich white men. But this is not simply a story about womanhood: we see solidarity and friendship between women here, but also jealousy, bitterness, betrayal. Nor is it simply about race, as Olaudah Cambridge and Frances both eloquently cover in their own ways. It is not simple at all in fact, but is a twisting tale of the wrongs of treating people as things (credit to Terry Pratchett, Carpe Jugulum).
The narrative reference to Moll Flanders make it an obvious comparator, but I was also reminded of Jane Eyre, Wide Sargasso Sea and Sarah Water’s female-centric fiction. This is a powerful story about living powerless, yet still living, loving, surviving. I would recommend this to anyone who likes their fiction smoothly written and raw with hard-to-swallow truths.
I write this by tallow light, having now paid sufficient guineas to be moved to a cell of my own. No law says I can’t read and write here, but for all I know the turnkeys would throw these pages away if they caught me at it, same as they did with Madame’s letter when I was first brought in. One click of a key, one turn of the knob, and I’m ready to shove paper, pen and ink under my skirts. They’re always spying, which means I must speed my pen. Now it’s a case of gobbling backwards. As if I spent my whole life putting those words in, and now I’m spitting them back out.
– Sara Collins, The Confessions of Frannie Langton
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