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Jane Eagland – Wildthorn

October 26, 2011

131. Wildthorn by Jane Eagland (2009)

Length: 350 pages
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction

Started: 07 October 2011
Finished: 08 October 2011

Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? It was sitting in the staff picks section, and I absolutely picked it up because of the cover.

I’m glad that these days,
too much reading is not cause
to be called crazy.

Summary: Louisa Cosgrove thinks she’s going to be a companion to the daughter of a family that’s friendly with her brother – something she’s not exactly looking forward to, but neither can she stay at home after everything that’s happened. But when the carriage stops at the door not of a manner house but of the Wildthorn Asylum, Louisa realizes she’s been tricked. The doctors there believe that her name is Lucy Childs, and that she’s insane. Louisa knows she’s not, but how can she convince anyone, when every protest seemingly confirms their opinion? And how can she possibly escape – even with the help of a friendly nurse – before being in Wildthorn drives her mad for real?

Review: If you’re thinking, “Gee, this book sounds an awful lot like Fingersmith,” you’re not alone. And that similarity cuts both ways. It’s a large part of why I picked it up: while I enjoyed Fingersmith well enough, I did find it a little slow moving in parts, and I was interested in something on a similar topic but faster-moving. And, to its credit, that it was; I read through Wildthorn in under three hours, most of which were in a single sitting.

But in every other way, I thought Wildthorn suffers in comparison to Fingersmith. The words “pale imitation” kept coming to mind as I read, and every aspect of Wildthorn – the characters’ motivations, the depictions of the horrors of life in a Victorian mental institution, the lesbian romance – just felt thinner, weaker, less complex, less believable. I spent most of the book hoping that Louisa actually was insane, figuring that there had to be something more to the plot than what was being presented. But as things went on, it became harder and harder to convince myself that there was an interesting twist like that waiting for me, and eventually I was forced to accept that the straightforward and rather obvious explanation for Louisa’s situation was in fact the only one I was left with.

The prose itself was fine, smooth and lively and easy to read, if not always convincingly historical-sounding. But I just wanted more – more depth of characterization, more complex motivations, more vivid descriptions, more historical detail, more compelling romance – than what this book had to offer. 3 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: There are plenty of people out there (including people whose opinions on books I trust) who enjoyed it a lot more than I did, so perhaps I’m just being cranky. If this appeals to you because you like Victorian YA lit, books about insane asylums, or teen lesbian romance, then it may be worth a try. However, if you like those things because you loved Fingersmith, then I think Wildthorn may not stack up quite as well as could be hoped.

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First Line: The carriage jolts and splashes along the rutted lanes flooded by the heavy November rains.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. October 26, 2011 9:12 am

    I had this out from the library and just couldn’t get into it…

    • November 15, 2011 9:50 am

      Kailana – I found it to be a pretty quick read, but at the same time, I totally understand not being able to really get involved in it.

  2. October 26, 2011 9:23 am

    Normally I would definitely pick this one up but the comparison to Fingersmith scares me. I can easily see how this one could pale in comparison–it’s hard to live up to Waters!

    • November 15, 2011 9:55 am

      Lola – It’s a double-edged sword: I picked it up because I wanted more like Fingersmith, but then it suffered because it was too much like Fingersmith in some ways, but wasn’t enough like it in the ways it mattered.

  3. October 26, 2011 11:17 am

    I’m with you. At first glance this sounded right up my alley, but I wasn’t a big fan.

  4. October 26, 2011 2:09 pm

    I think I’d rather look for Fingersmith.

  5. October 26, 2011 6:23 pm

    Heh, I’m not surprised this was underwhelming. When I read a book that raises comparisons to a book I’ve already read and liked, it almost always suffers by comparison. I think it’s all of a piece with seeing the movie first vs. reading the book first. Your brain assumes the first thing is doing it right, and the second thing just doesn’t measure up.

    Plus, you know, Sarah Waters. It would be hard for anyone to measure up to Sarah Waters. She is marvelous.

    • November 15, 2011 9:58 am

      Jenny – I’ve read fairly similar books where it’s definitely the second one that gets it right, but on general terms I think you’re onto something. Although in most cases I prefer the book to the movie, regardless of which I read/see first, for the few cases that I like the movie better, the movie was always first.


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