The other day my mom came home from work with a new novel for me to read. Apparently one of her co-workers has the same taste in books as I do: running towards the Middle and/or Dark Ages, the more medieval and fantastical the better. Her timing was rather impeccable--I've been wanting something new to read but haven't had the time to actually run to the bookstore to look for it, and now a lovely new book has been delivered right into my lap.
The Tenth Gift
, by Jane Johnson, consists of three parallel stories in as many perspectives and spanning several centuries. Julia, our main 20th-century lady, recovers from a breakup by helping her cousin Alison recuperate from her husband's suicide and then eventually going to Morocco to find out more about a 17th century book of embroidery-turned-diary given to her by her ex. Catherine, the woman who wrote the diary, dreams of being a master embroiderer and despises her life as a lady's maid in Cornwall. She also journeys to Morocco, though not exactly of her own free will. Her fianc? Robert follows her to Morocco in a misguided attempt to rescue her; Julia's ex follows her to Morocco as well. As we might have guessed, shenanigans ensue.
One of the things I love about this book is the clear and beautiful descriptions Johnson uses throughout. All the scenes she creates are so clear I feel like I can "see" everything as it's happening. The bits in medieval London, Cornwall, and Morocco especially fascinate me'this world is not at all sugar-coated, but very gritty and real. These medieval heroes do not have shiny hair and clean faces, nor are they perfect all the time. They are flea-bitten and grungy and rough. They get sea-sick. They have heroic dreams that might or might not work out in the end. In other words, they are "real people." While they are not bad people in general, the circumstances in which they find themselves sometimes force them to do things that are less than stellar; and this goes for the 20th-century characters as well.
It's interesting to have a novel written from so many different perspectives. At first it was a little disconcerting, but as I continued reading I found myself really enjoying it. It's gotten more engrossing as I've gone along, and of course all of these stories are connected in some way--a way that gets more obvious as you go along. A day might come when I would want to read it again.
So if this kind of story is your thing, take a look at
The Tenth Gift
the next time you're in a bookstore. You might be very happily surprised!