Macmillan New Writing focus
Cover the Mirrors
Faye L. Booth
OK, I know I said I wasn't going to do any more Macmillan New Writers for a while. I am happy to reverse myself for Faye L. Booth's Cover the Mirrors, because it's a book the discerning reader will read with pleasure and profit.
Cover the Mirrors is the story of Molly, a fraudulent spiritualist in 1850s Preston. The spiritualism is a nice idea, but less central to the novel than the blurb would have the reader believe: what Cover the Mirrors is really about is the position of women in nineteenth century England. The conventional Victorian romance novel has women yearning for a chaste fulfilment with husband and children. Molly, on the other hand, wants nothing of the sort. Her desires most certainly do not run in the direction of chastity, and she sees a husband as nothing more than the man who will legally steal the house her aunt has left her. Any son will grow up to own the house and Molly will have to live in her own home on sufferance. In any event, childbirth is messy, painful and dangerous.
Molly nonetheless finds herself married and pregnant as she struggles to reconcile her cold-eyed view of life with her attraction to men. The plot plays out with skill and neatness, and some vivid, if bloody, setpiece scenes.
It's a take on the nineteenth century which may surprise some readers, but ironically would not have seemed strange to contemporaries. Jane Austen may not be so direct in her subject matter, but reading any of her novels we see that for a young woman marriage is not just--or even primarily--about love: it's business.
As well as this unusual but clear-eyed perspective, Cover the Mirrors does the bread and butter extremely well. The characterisation is first-rate, not just the engaging Molly but her childhood friend Jenny, her unsentimental Aunt Florrie and William, the husband for whom Molly has such equivocal feelings. Booth is steeped in the period and readers of nineteenth century novels will not find themselves raging at anachronisms. In addition, the prose is always well-judged and shot through with a wry humour.
Faye L. Booth is already a writer with a distinctive voice. I hope we will be hearing plenty more of it.