Friday, May 18, 2012

Jessamine by Eugenia O'Neal

Grace arrives to join her West Indian husband, Julian Hylton in his Caribbean island home on the island of St Crescens, where she is introduced to Jessamine, a beautiful, historical plantation house, owned in the previous century by the Island Administrator.

Loving her new home, Grace is surprised at the hostile welcome she receives from Julian’s grandmother and some of the locals. Both appear to disapprove of both Julian’s efforts for election to the government of the island, and the fact he married an American woman and not an islander, but Grace is made of strong stuff and tries to fit in as best she can. 

Julian’s campaign takes up most of his time, and left alone at Jessamine, Grace is plagued by strange headaches.  When the physical symptoms change to a voice of a woman asking for help, Grace refuses to ignore her and starts digging amongst church records and the town's archives to discover who this lost soul might be and what she wants.

Running parallel to Grace’s story is that of Arabella, a young orphaned white girl, who came to St Crescens in the 1880’s as governess employed by William Threlfall and his wife Olivia at Jessamine, where she looks after their three children, Victoria, Theodore and Jocelyn.

Arabella Adams has experienced little love in her life and the Threlfalls offer her none, leaving her isolated and susceptible to the attentions of a local man, Leando Joseph. Leando is an exceptional man for a West Indian in the 19th century, having made a good life for himself and is a respected landowner, but he also cares deeply for his fellow islanders and is determined to help create better lives for the native population who suffer at the hands of the plantation owners.

In their respective times, both Arabella and Grace are embroiled in the similar political wrangles of their men to alter the status quo, defeat corruption and bring a better life to the islanders; a fight neither Julian nor Leando intend to shrink from, and an element they have in common is the deep love they have for their women.

As Grace’s investigations into Arabela’s life take a dangerous turn, the riots of a former time threaten to re-visit the island. Will Grace discover the truth in time to help keep Julian safe from the same family who caused tragedy to Arabella and Leando so long ago? 

Miss O’Neal’s novel is a story of tragic love, greed and political rivalry fought on one island in two different centuries. The two women have very different voices and the author portrays the starkness of the 19th century as opposed to the more enlightened, but equally segregated 21st very well.  I found Arabella’s voice to be the strongest and her story the more touching and tragic, but maybe this is because it is clear from the beginning that she needs Grace’s help to gain closure to her life.

I did find the island dialect a little hard to get used to, but then I am a London girl so it was almost a different language, however the parallels of the two women’s lives are cleverly drawn and by the end I had come to admire Grace’s tenacity to unearth the truth and not be intimidated by her husband’s enemies, as much as I did Arabella’s courage to defy convention and cross the race divide.

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Blurb for Dido's Prize  - Dido, a slave on a Jamaican sugar plantation, runs away to join Henry Morgan's privateer fleet and find the treasure that will allow her to buy her family's freedom. What she doesn't bargain on is falling in love with El Negro, a pirate captain with no particular yen for a long-lasting relationship. As Morgan sails the Spanish Main, sacking first, El Puerto del Principe in Cuba, and then the great city of Porto Bello in Panama, Dido becomes a valued member of El Negro's crew. After the ships return to Jamaica, Dido thinks she will never see the pirate captain again, but he comes to her rescue when she is in peril. They flee deep into the Blue Mountains, but El Negro knows he will never be safe on the island. Together, Dido and her pirate, head back out to sea to find a place where they can live and love in freedom.

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