Tuesday, May 20, 2008
BOOK REVIEW: A TRUE AND FAITHFUL NARRATIVE
By Katherine Sturtevant
(historical fiction for young adults and older ones too!)
It is 1681 and Meg Moore is often at work in her father’s London bookshop. Her position there puts her in touch with the literary world and agitates her desire to be a writer. However, because she is a woman, her father strictly forbids her to write anything for others to read.
Edward, a family friend, stops in at the bookshop before leaving on a trip to Italy. He asks Meg what gift he can bring her from his travels. Startled, Meg realizes he is suggesting a romantic relationship. She responds by joking that perhaps he will be captured at sea and thus return with an adventure for her to write.
In fact, Edward does get captured and is sold into slavery. Meg’s careless jest haunts her and she begins to raise funds to buy his freedom. Will, who also works in her father’s bookshop, helps her. An infatuation with Will ensues and the two of them envision a future together.
But then Edward returns and he wants Meg to write his story for him. Of course she must do this in secret or she will incur the wrath of her father. Meg and Edward begin meeting in a tavern where he relates his adventure and she writes it down.
But Edward’s experiences do not convey the tale that Meg has imagined. She is disappointed that his story lacks certain dramatic points. When he tells her his Muslim owner was actually a kindly person, Meg must let go of preconceived ideas about the Islamic world.
She discovers then, the writer’s dilemma. She can sensationalize Edward’s story so that it suits her fancy and captures her reader. Or she can render it truthfully, thus opening a window into the broader world. By the same token, Edward learns to trust the author of his story—to let go of particular details in order to shine a light on the more significant aspects of his experience.
I loved this book for the way in which Katherine Sturtevant slips so much information about time and place so naturally into the story. However, word choice and sentence arrangement convey as much about restoration England as do the many historical details provided.
I also treasure the way in which the story, itself, explores what it means to be an author. For Meg, it is about much more than finding and conveying the truth of a narrative. Being a female writer in restoration England has limitations. There are areas in which she has no choice about her life. And yet, Meg is not powerless. In some ways this story is about accepting limitations and in other ways it is about choosing wider horizons.
A True and Faithful Narrative is at once a romance and a story of hard realities. Meg’s life is not all about the bookshop and the essence of writing. She has responsibilities to home and family. Her best friend, Anne (Edward’s sister) is caught in an unhappy marriage which gives Meg reason to examine her own romantic choices.
There are many layers here which will be best appreciated by mature young readers. A True and Faithful Narrative is a book that writers, like myself, will want to own so we can revisit it when in need of inspiration and grounding.
A True and Faithful Narrative is a sequel to At The Sign of the Star.