Chatto and Windus
10 September 2020
Thanks to the publishers for my ecopy of this book
She was ‘The Angel of the Baths’, the one woman whose touch everybody yearned for. Yet she would do more. She was certain of that.
In the city of Bath, in the year 1865, an extraordinary young woman renowned for her nursing skills is convinced that some other destiny will one day show itself to her. But when she finds herself torn between a dangerous affair with a female lover and the promise of a conventional marriage to an apparently respectable doctor, her desires begin to lead her towards a future she had never imagined.
Meanwhile, on the wild island of Borneo, an eccentric British ‘rajah’, Sir Ralph Savage, overflowing with philanthropy but compromised by his passions, sees his schemes relentlessly undermined by his own fragility, by man’s innate greed and by the invasive power of the forest itself.
Jane’s quest for an altered life and Sir Ralph’s endeavours become locked together as the story journeys across the globe – from the confines of an English tearoom to the rainforests of a tropical island via the slums of Dublin and the transgressive fancy-dress boutiques of Paris.
Islands of Mercy is a novel that ignites the senses, and is a bold exploration of the human urge to seek places of sanctuary in a pitiless world.
What did I think about it..
Irish immigrant, Clorinda Morrissey sets up a tea shop in the city of Bath. There she comes into contact with Dr William Adeane, a practitioner who is tending the sick, along with his daughter, Jane, who is known, because of her compassionate nursing skills, as the Angel of Bath. Jane Adeane is a complex character, filled with a longing for something she doesn't yet know she needs. She flees the city, after a conventional proposal of marriage and goes to reside with her rather Bohemian relative in London, there she meets someone who will change her life forever.
The Borneo connection sits somewhat incongruously at first and I wasn't really sure how this would fit in with the rest of the story but it does eventually pull together and it was interesting to see the layers peeled back revealing the rather jaded lifestyle of Sir Ralph Savage. An interesting character and a marvelous place to set a story, but sadly, neither the place nor the people, held any sort of interest for me.
I wanted to like this book and after reading so many glowing reviews I expected to be blown away by it and, sadly, I wasn't. The Borneo aspects of the story was something I could very easily have skipped through and I'm afraid to say it but I found Jane to be profoundly irritating. The saving grace of the story was Clorinda Morrissey's place in it. Her strength of purpose and determination shines through in a world where so often women were greatly overlooked. She also made a great sponge cake 😐
About the Author
Rose Tremain's best-selling novels have won many awards, including the Baileys Women's Prize, the Whitbread Novel of the Year, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and the Prix Femina Etranger. Restoration, the first of her novels to feature Robert Merivel, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. (Goodreads)