BOOKS: The rise of a new novelist
- Credit: Andrew Partridge
Louise Denyer reads She Rises by Kate Worsley, which is set on the Suffolk and Essex border
One of the things I like most about living in this part of the world is that you are never far from the sea.
While our coastal waters may not be as crystal clear or temperate as the Mediterranean, our coast does possess a certain unique and captivating charm that draws you gently into its rhythmical ebb and flow. It’s no surprise that so many writers and poets have, for centuries, set their texts against this backdrop, and Kate Worsley is the latest addition to this ever growing list with her novel, She Rises. A first-time novelist, she has had a varied career including journalist, massage practitioner and machine operator, as well as taking an MA in creative writing in London.
At the start of the novel the heroine Louise Fletcher is content with her simple life as a young dairymaid at a typical farm on the Suffolk/Essex border. However, like all teenagers she hankers after the excitement of new experiences and despite her mother’s cautionary tales, leaps at the chance to become a lady’s maid for the youngest daughter of a well known captain based in the bustling port of Harwich. The haughty, yet alluring Rebecca Handley is unlike anyone Louise has met and before long she is completely enraptured.
The narrative is also told from the perspective of 15-year-old Luke, who is unwittingly beaten in a Harwich tavern and press ganged into the navy, where he finds himself aboard the warship Essex with no escape and a secret to conceal at all costs. As he quickly adjusts to a hard and dangerous life at sea, thoughts of how he will return to the woman he loves keep him alive. Luke’s and Louise’s tales are deftly interwoven with one another, fluctuating between retrospective storytelling as the action unfolds, finally merging towards the end.
This well researched novel is set in the 1740s when England’s power as a nation was ascending, partly due to its diverse trade and colonisation around the world. But this was also a time of political instability with France, an undercurrent that prevails throughout the book. The threat of war serves as a useful metaphor for characters wanting to break free of their captive circumstances.
Another issue explored in detail is a seemingly modern subject that was of particular interest to an 18th century audience – gender roles. The novel’s strong feminist tone is in keeping with the developing ideologies of this era and the writing style reminds me of another novel published in 2002, Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, Worsley’s mentor when she was studying for her MA in London.
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No seafaring historical tale is complete without a reference to smuggling, which was rife throughout society, both intentionally and unwittingly. It is contrasted with the seemingly respectable business dealings of the merchants and their families as well as the way in which women generally were treated as commodities that could be traded on the marriage market.
I think Worsley has written a believable work of fiction, effortlessly inhabiting her characters.
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