It took me a long time to pick up this book and actually read it. I was reluctant at first because I had somehow convinced myself it was by the author of the Thorn Birds, a popular book when I was at University in the seventies, but which I don’t remember particularly enjoying, though people were raving about it at the time. I thought this would be of the same ilk. How wrong I was!
But a few days ago I found it on my bedside table under a stack of books I’d started and so I thought I would give it a go.
To my delight and consternation (I have had a lot of other things to do) I couldn’t put it down. Beautifully written, the characters are mostly very irritating, if truth be told. Willa, the main modern protagonist, is particularly annoying, as she doesn’t seem to be able to understand any of her own family, who all use her dreadfully – but then she seems to let them, to subdue some inner guilt she seems to carry. I don’t know, I just couldn’t warm to her, despite her self sacrifices and obvious love for them all. Her widowed son seems to be a selfish entitled brat, and her daughter the opposite, a veritable saint. (Quite unrealistic) Her husband is just a sexy attractive Greek who leaves it all to her.
Can you tell I didn’t like them much. But – I loved the story. Willa is desperate to increase the family’s funds, and discovers the story of the ramshackle house she lives in. The history of the area is told in parallel through the vagaries of the married life of a certain Thatcher Greenwood – a 19th Century science teacher who tries to persuade his community of the Darwinist theory of evolution – unsuccessfully of course. His story is the more romantic – in the widest meaning of the word – one. He is married to another beautiful and entitled selfish miss, but meets a woman of intellect and passion for science. Willa slowly uncovers the story of Mary Treat (a real person, I believe) and the parallels of their lives a century apart unfold.
I thought the book was fascinating and I loved the quirk of the chapter endings becoming the beginning of the next chapter in the alternate century.
Have you read any of her books?