Monday, June 29, 2009

Katherine’s Wish by Linda Lappin (a review)

Katherine's Wish by Linda LappinKatherine’s Wish by Linda Lappin is a fictionalized account of the last five years of the writer Katherine Mansfield’s life, from 1918 to 1923, told from the alternating points of view of Mansfield herself; her husband, John Middleton Murry; and her companion, Ida Constance Baker. During that time, Mansfield lived in France, England, Italy and Switzerland, ever in search of a place to both write and recover from the tuberculosis that would eventually kill her.

I found the first part of this book a bit hard to get into. Not only do all three of the main characters come across as unlikeable, but Lappin also seems to be cramming in background information about Mansfield in a way that feels forced, given the structure of the novel. This results in passages like this one:
Upon her return, [Katherine] would put an end to all that [Murry’s affairs], by marrying Murry, once her divorce from George Bowden came through at last. What a terrible mistake that had been: marrying Bowden on the spur of the moment, simply because he adored her and seemed so well-connected. Of course, that wasn’t the real reason she had let George rush her to the altar. The real reason had been the fatherless child in her womb, Garnet’s child, the baby she had lost later in Bavaria. And that had all been Mother’s fault. She would never have miscarried if Mother hadn’t sent her to that dreadful spa to get her away from Ida. (p. 12)
This feels disjointed and I would imagine very confusing to someone who is unfamiliar with Mansfield’s history.

Luckily, once the stage is set, the narrative focuses on the novel’s present (1918-1923) and flows much more smoothly. Although I’m not familiar enough with Mansfield’s writing to judge whether Lappin was successful in reproducing her style, I certainly felt like I was getting a glimpse into Mansfield’s mind. Above all, Lappin captures Mansfield’s fierce desire to write despite all odds and at whatever cost—these were my favourite parts of the book. Here, for example, are some of (the fictionalized) Mansfield’s thoughts on writing:
Certainly there was nothing like it: to be divided always into two or more, a multitude of selves. To be the detached observer, sitting in a carriage, driving along the sea, clinging to the cold handle of the carriage door, smelling the tang of salt in the air, and at the very same instant to hang suspended in the silver flash of rain against a smoky sky, to be scattered in the foam blowing along the strand. . . . Passenger and driver, the little boy in a blue cape, nibbling strawberries at the roadside, the high-stepping horse and the roiling sea were all parts of herself. (p. 170)
And here is (the fictionalized) Virginia Woolf describing her journal to Mansfield:
‘It’s like a madwoman’s dream, or like a deep drawer in an old desk where I collect shreds and scraps of my daily impressions which I later reassemble in obsessive experiments.’ (p. 154)
Lappin writes with such compassion for her characters that I soon forgot that I had initially found them unlikeable (with the exception perhaps of Murry). As the end of the novel neared, I found myself almost hoping that it would end differently, that Mansfield would somehow be given more time.

Check out these sites for other reviews of Katherine’s Wish:
Absinthe MindedPerigee: Publication for the ArtsRain Taxi

Also visit Sheri’s blog for a guest post by the author:

Katherine’s Wish won the Gold Medal for Historical Fiction at the 2009 IPPY Awards as well as an honorable mention for the Eric Hoffer Award in 2009. It was also a finalist for the 2008 ForeWord Book of the Year Award.

Are you interested in reading this book? Author Linda Lappin has generously offered to send a copy of this novel to one of my readers in Canada, the U.S. or Europe. She has also offered to send a copy of her first novel, The Etruscan, to another reader. Come back tomorrow for all the details.

Thank you to Linda Lappin for sending me this book to review.

This is the eighth book I review for the New Authors Challenge.


  1. Really good review. I definitely got a little bit of a feel for the book. I love reading about authors I don't read very much. Katherine Mansfield falls into that category, though I hear she is very good. Glad that the book pulled you in more as you went along. Definitely something to consider.

  2. I'm glad you eventually liked some of the characters - it's difficult to read a book when there aren't any likeable characters in the book. It sounds like an interesting read though - I've been liking fictionalized accounts of famous people/events. I've found them interesting.

  3. That's too bad about the first part of the book. I found the passage you quoted gave a bit too much information to be able to take in. It's almost as if someone else wrote the 2nd and 3rd passages you quote - which are beautiful.

  4. I think it's always interesting to read a new author and even better when you end up with favorable thoughts on their works. I'm staying tuned in for tomorrow!!

  5. I think I'd be fascinated by anything having to do with Katherine Mansfield - I've written about her stories on my reading blog - and Virginia Woolf is so much a part of my literary life!
    Great review - honest, and deep.

  6. I had not heard of this book. Katherine Mansfield was such a fascinating person--I am adding it to my wish list. I've read a few of her short stories and the Journal she wrote that is published by Persephone Books. I'd also like to read her biography at some point as well.

  7. I liked your review although at first it looked like you were not going to like it. I love historical fiction and one that comes to mind, actually any of Sandra Worth's books about the Rose Wars. They are all fabulous.
    I am following your blog on your Google widget. I was already a follower on my list.
    You don't have to enter me in the drawing. I am overloaded with review obligations right now. Thanks and good luck to everyone.

  8. Hey, I had missed reading this review in June...I think the cover put me off! looks interesting, although I am leery of someone trying to duplicate a real person (and authors)'s inner voice...
    and I think it quite likely that none of those characters were very likeable!
    Great review