Thursday, 15 April 2010

A week of Orange Wednesdays: Savage Lands (Clark)

Savage Lands did not immediately appeal to me, but Fiona from Random House very kindly sent me a copy, and I thought I would give it a go, principally because one of the things that I like about the Orange prize is its ability to broaden my reading. It's Clare Clark's third novel - I remember seeing her second The great stink on a previous Orange list, but it was not one that I ever got around to reading.

The book is set in the early eighteenth century and tells the story of Elisabeth, a girl from Paris, who is sent, along with a number of other "casket girls" to Louisana to provide wives for the early settlers. Elisabeth marries Jean-Claude, and is fortunate enough to fall in love with him, although trauma follows with a number of failed pregnancies. The book also tells the story of a young boy named Auguste, who is acting as a spy between the colonials and the "savages" who already inhabit Louisana, and the way that he becomes embroiled in the relationship between Elisabeth and Jean-Claude.

The book immediately grasped my attention, with Elisabeth proving to be a bookish girl after my own heart, taking out some of the heavy linen from her trunk in order to include more books ("She did not tell her Aunt") and recieving a presentation copy of Montaigne's Essais as a leaving present which she resists reading on the boat, in order to save it for Louisana. Unfortunately, once she arrives in America, reading is no longer so important, and it is only later on that she re-discovers reading. However, I found her becoming less likeable as the book progressed and she had miscarriage after miscarriage and seemed to have changed very much from the girl who set out - I suppose that was partly the point of the book.

The writing is vivid and the story has a good pace, so despite it being very different from my usual reading material I found it engrossing, although I think it was probably the Orange book that I have enjoyed least so far.


  1. I would say, Louisiana! Hurrah! - out of pride for the home state, but I hardly ever read books set in Louisiana in this time period. This one sounds a bit grim for me.

  2. I'm still in the early stages of this one, and I'm feeling that Claire Clark can write but the plot is very choppy. She seems to be passing over some of the potentially most interesting bits of the story. But I'm holding on to see if there's a reason for this, and because I find the heroine engaging - if annoying!

  3. I've seen mostly mixed reviews on this one, both in the press and from other bloggers. It still sounds very intriguing though, something I'll want to try though I might not necessarily finish!

  4. Jenny - it was a little grim, but maybe worth reading as it's your neck of the woods? I love reading books set where I live.

    Jane - I did find the plot choppy too actually - will be itnerested to hear your comments in due course.

    Claire - it was an intriguing idea even if it wasn't one that I found ultimately satisfying. Worth a look anyway.

  5. Any girl who makes way for more books is going to be a hit with me! The setting is not my cup of tea but I'm glad that you enjoyed it.


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