‘A man writes to separate himself from the common history. A woman writes to try to join it.’
Why Did I Read This Book?
As I’ve probably mentioned before, the Gothic genre has to be one of my favourite genres. So much so, I even did my dissertation on Dracula, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and The Picture of Dorian Gray. I could curl up with a late 19th Century Gothic any day given the chance. So when I read the reviews of The Confessions of Frannie Langton and the words ‘Gothic’, ‘terror’ and ‘horror’ were reappearing, I could not wait to get my hands on a copy.
What Did I Think?
The story follows a Jamaican slave who is brought to Georgian England and ‘gifted’ by her owner to his friend. She is accused of murdering her new master and mistress, George and Marguerite Benham and through Collins we are able to hear Frannie’s story, from beginning to end.
Gothic elements run through the novel, with Frannie assisting her master with horrific human experiments. From this terrifying experience however, Frannie learns how to read and write. Through Frannie’s written account, the novel seamlessly gives voice to a female minority in a society that would have typically silenced her.
Jane Eyre ‘tones’ echo throughout its pages, as Frannie is a powerless child brought up horribly in a terrible place. Yet, Frannie finds empowerment through books and reading which ultimately separates her from other slaves and even from the white servants.
‘She had the knowledge from her mother, old knowledge. So long as you carried it in your head they couldn’t take it away, she used to say. Not like weapons, or food, or clothes.’
There is an impressive variety of themes at play, including race, gender, class, sexuality, depression, science, education, drug misuse and the psychological effects of servitude. All of which, Collins encapsulates in their entirety.
Upon finishing the book, I listened to a podcast in which Sara Collins discussed her novel and what I didn’t realise is that she was a lawyer before she embarked on her creative writing masters at Cambridge University. This may be why this Gothic novel begins at the Old Bailey. She goes on to say that she didn’t want this to be just another slave narrative that dehumanises the protagonist. And I’m so glad.
Frannie has this fire in her that differentiates her narrative to other historical fiction I have read. Her determination to be more than what society allows is truly admirable. Her story makes me question if Frannie is so strong-witted because Collins felt so passionately about allowing this character to come to life within the pages we flick through.
Perhaps the only thing I can criticise about this novel is that it was slightly longer than it needed to be, yet if you prevail, the rewards are invaluable…and you’ll get a beautiful book sitting on your bookshelf too!