Henry was Rachel’s opposite—gregarious where she was quiet, fanciful where she was pragmatic. After years of marriage, Rachel left Henry and their oldest son without explanation and set off on a steamer for New York City with their other four children. Was her flight the ultimate act of betrayal or one of extraordinary courage? Eight characters connected by blood and circumstance reconstruct Rachel’s inexplicable vanishing act.
Thanks to Sarah Hall Productions, I received a review copy of Laurel Saville’s historical novel ‘Henry and Rachel’, which was published on the 15th of October 2013. I hadn’t read anything by Laurel Saville before, but the fact that the novel is based on real letters written by her own family, more specifically her great-grandparents, sparked my interest. I even received a folder with some extra background information on Laurel Saville, her family, and the novel, which only made me more curious to read the novel and find out more.
After his first wife died in childbirth, Henry was devastated and did not see himself falling in love with someone else. However, as soon as he lays eyes on Rachel, he is captivated by her. Rachel was brought to live with the George family, but she has always been the quiet and pensive type, hiding in corners and not making herself noticed. The two end up together, but their marriage is not a happy one. One day, Henry and his oldest son come home to an empty house; Rachel has taken the four other children with her and has left to go to New York. This novel tells the story of what exactly happened, and how things turned out this way for Henry, Rachel and their family.
Henry and Rachel’s tale is at the core of this novel and is told from the perspective of eight characters that each play a significant part in the story. The background setting is an island in the West Indies in the early twentieth century, a time in which race and class distinction played important roles. The basis for a fascinating and strong narrative is definitely there, but unfortunately somehow this did not result in an intriguing read I did not want to put down. This probably partly had to do with the fact that I thought that Rachel, one of the main characters of the book, was really difficult to read. She’s a distant woman, who eventually decides to flee to New York in order to give her children a better life including an education, but throughout the story I found it difficult to decide whether I liked her or not. Next to her, there weren’t any other characters I specifically liked or disliked, so I kind of missed an emotional link with the people at the core of this novel.
It’s really too bad that the novel is not heavy in plot, because Laurel Saville’s way of writing is captivating. I wasn’t surprised to find out that she has won several awards with her specific lyrical voice, and I’m quite curious to read more of her work. I am positive that others will enjoy ‘Henry and Rachel’, it’s an atmospheric and undoubtedly well-written novel, but personally I wasn’t able to connect with the characters and had expected more, based on the blurb and background information.