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The Telling, by Jo Baker.

May 5, 2015

The Telling, by Jo Baker.  London: Portobello Books, 2008.

4 stars

An absorbing novel about two women, one contemporary and the other from the mid-1800s in the same house in an English village.

Rachel comes to the small house where her parents had meant to retire—until her mother got cancer and died. She is there to pack up their things and sell it. Once there, she is spooked by ghosts in the house–or is she going crazy? Jo Baker leaves us in delicious suspense while Rachel explores the story of Elizabeth, a woman who once lived there. Both women’s characters are fragile and confused. As Rachel is still reeling from her mother’s death, Elizabeth is discovering that both love and the written word have a cost.

Jo Baker is the kind of author that is slow to tell readers what is happening. I feel like I am giving away spoilers when I say anything at all about the plot. Her writing is unusually graphic, not only describing what can be seen but also what can be heard and smelled. She doesn’t tell us about her characters, but writing in first person, she shows us their emotions. For me, her attention to detail is like the total awareness of mediation practices, and I love it.

The historical portions of the book are shaped around the Chartist Movement which swept through England in the middle of the 1800s. Baker has obviously done her research into this rebellion of people who are being removed from their land and swept into domestic service and factories. She makes an event read about in history texts come to life in the resentments the villagers and the fearful responses of the upper classes. This is a book that includes personal universal narratives of love and loss as well as an informative account of public events that remain all too relevant to the injustices of today. I strongly recommend it to a variety of readers.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 7, 2015 4:33 am

    I like the sound of this! Adding to my TBR!

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