Book Review: The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins


the confessions of frannie langtonAbout the Book

They say I must be put to death for what happened to Madame, and they want me to confess. But how can I confess what I don’t believe I’ve done?

1826, and all of London is in a frenzy. Crowds gather at the gates of the Old Bailey to watch as Frannie Langton, maid to Mr and Mrs Benham, goes on trial for their murder. The testimonies against her are damning – slave, whore, seductress. And they may be the truth. But they are not the whole truth.

For the first time Frannie must tell her story. It begins with a girl learning to read on a plantation in Jamaica, and it ends in a grand house in London, where a beautiful woman waits to be freed.

But through her fevered confessions, one burning question haunts Frannie Langton: could she have murdered the only person she ever loved?

Format: Hardcover, ebook (384 pp.)    Publisher:  Viking Books UK
Published: 4th April 2019   Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime

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My Review

The author makes the silencing of other voices, in particular those of black people and of women, a central theme of the book. It’s why Frannie feels compelled to set down her story in her own words, unmediated by others. Frannie’s account is interspersed with the testimony of witnesses at her trial including the Benham’s housekeeper, Mrs. Linux, other household servants and visitors to the house.

Frannie and her new mistress, Madame Benham, are initially drawn to each other by a shared love of books and reading and there are many references to the power of books to inform, excite, provide comfort, open up new worlds and possibilities. I like to imagine the author’s inclusion of the sentence, ‘And what do two women do in a room of their own’ is an allusion to Virginia Woolf’s famous essay.

The two women’s relationship soon becomes much more intimate and therefore more challenging to the social mores of the time. Staying with the literary theme, the author utilizes books as a metaphor for Frannie’s feelings towards her mistress. ‘What I wanted was to learn her inch by inch. To read her like a book that wouldn’t end.’ When everything changes for Frannie it becomes a wholly darker story evoking memories of her early life on the plantation (ironically named Paradise) and the terrible things that went on there.

Alongside the story of Frannie and the nature of her involvement (or otherwise) in the deaths of the Benhams, the book touches on topics such as identity, racial prejudice, social and gender inequality, the nature versus nurture debate and the abolitionist and emancipation movements. It’s a lot to cover in one book and could for some readers perhaps be a distraction from the story of the murders which only returns to centre stage in the final chapters of the novel.

Reading The Confessions of Frannie Langton brought to mind other (fiction and non-fiction) books I’ve read recently such as Blood & Sugar, Sugar in the Blood and The Conviction of Cora Burns, all of which touch on similar issues although in slightly different ways.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton is an engrossing story of passion and betrayal that is part social history, part historical mystery.

I received a review copy courtesy of publishers, Penguin Books UK, and NetGalley.

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In three words: Compelling, intense, multi-layered

Try something similar…The Conviction of Cora Burns by Carolyn Kirby (read my review here)

About the Author

Sara Collins studied law at the London School of Economics and worked as a lawyer for seventeen years. In 2014 she embarked upon the Creative Writing Masters at Cambridge University, where she won the 2015 Michael Holroyd Prize of Re-creative Writing and was shortlisted for the 2016 Lucy Cavendish Prize for a book inspired by her love of gothic fiction. This turned into her first novel, The Confessions of Frannie Langton.

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