It’s been a busy week here as we finally sold the house we have been working on and we moved everything from 2 houses into 1! Today is our day of relaxation, so I have had a lovely hot yoga vinyasa class, a bath, finished another book and watched the formula 1. It’s unusual for me to post on a Sunday (my blogs are usually released on Saturdays), but as I’m curled up on the sofa with ample amounts of time (and tea) it seems like a good time to share with you what I’ve been reading recently!
A ROOM MADE OF LEAVES, BY KATE GRENVILLE
So firstly, I was drawn to this book because of it’s gorgeous cover. Although this is an e-book that I read, I can imagine how beautiful it will look on your shelf. The second reason for choosing it is that this a work of historical fiction, which I’ve found myself loving in the past few years.
It is 1788. 21 year old Elizabeth is hungry for life, but as the ward of a Devon clergymen, knows she has few prospects. When proud, scarred soldier John MacArthur promises her the earth on a midsummer’s night, she believes him.
But Elizabeth soon realises she has made a terrible mistake. Her new husband is reckless, tormented, driven by some dark rage at the world. He tells her he is to take up a position as Lieutenant in a New South Wales penal colony and she has no choice but to go. Sailing for six months to the far side of the globe with a child growing inside her, she arrives to find Sydney Town a brutal, dusty, hungry place of makeshift shelters, failing crops, scheming and rumours.”A Room made of Leaves
I was super excited to read this book as it is written from the perspective of the real life strong woman behind the well-known man (not to me, but apparently he is). The author claims that the story is written using letters scribed by the real Mrs MacArthur to bring her life to our pages.
Initially I loved the opening, which began with Elizabeth’s childhood and we began to understand who she was and how she had been brought up. Her meeting with Mr MacArthur was very interesting, and through a moment of false promises, miscalculations and lust, she ends up tied to him forever. Regrettably however, she finds that he is not what she hoped he would be.
The story follows the couple to the first colony in New South Wales, Australia in 1788, which I found super interesting in terms of picturing the landscape as it was then, the mix of soldiers and officers and banished prisoners. But mostly, I was looking forward to the perspectives and reactions of the local natives to their settlement in their land. I liked the characters of the Aborigines, cheeky and fun – they added much needed light to the very stiff upper lip characters of the new settlers. I quite enjoyed the strength of Elizabeth and her ways of finding happiness in an a part of the world she didn’t want to move to, in a marriage she didn’t want to be in. Women are often excluded from historical accounts of major events, so I really loved that we were exploring the perspective of a wife, and one that was determined to make the circumstances work for her.
However, although I did initially warm to the book, I’m afraid it fell quite short for what I was hoping for. As a reader I felt like I was vaguely watching from the sidelines rather than fully engaged in the story. Whilst there were some really touching conversations and interesting relationships between Elizabeth and other characters, I felt that I found myself wondering when that character had appeared and what their backstory was – I had completely forgotten.
You would expect that the sea crossing (especially with a small child) would have been quite a main point of the story and Elizabeth would have had much to say (and complain) about. You would expect a mass of different characters to be introduced, but there weren’t. It was very much skated over without much explanation.
I found also that there weren’t any other strong female characters other than Elizabeth; I’m sure she would be rather isolated but it seemed that the only other females were prisoners or housekeepers; there were no women of her standing either that she liked or disliked. The character of Mr MacArthur was interesting and kept the story interesting, but I lost count of the number of battles he had and forgot what they were about (I promise I’m not usually this forgetful!).
The story really fell flat around 50% of the way through. I was hoping that the use of the letters by the Author would really add to the story, but unfortunately it didn’t work. The letters apparently written by Mrs Macarthur did not fit with the character that Grenville has portrayed. For example, Elizabeth is in many scenes with natives who she is talking to and caring for, but in her letters home describes them as savages. I think Grenville has gone a bit PC to fit with what is acceptable in modern times and the reality is, this is set in 1788, and it happened. Either remove that letter or don’t write the character as being open and caring to a group of people that the real Elizabeth Macarthur clearly wasn’t.
I did eventually find that I found the marriage between Mr & Mrs Macarthur was well matched, but no for love or romantic reasons. Both were strategic in their thoughts and actions, dancing around polite words to ultimately get what they wanted from each other and from other powerful people in society. Elizabeth does have a fire burning within her to be a strong business woman, but it never really picked up to the point where she fully outwitted her husband to do so.
CAN’T PUT IT DOWN RATING: 2.5/5
I should have loved this because of the focus on the female perspective and her ways of finding happiness in a new and strange land , but ultimately I found the language too floral for my liking and again there was a lack of punctuation (this time speech marks, what is with this ‘trend’ lately)! The story could have been really interesting, but ultimately I found that once we set sail to the new lands, it was pretty boring and there was nowhere near enough focus on the natives of the land and their perspectives and culture. It was very insular in its writing and quite the opposite as to what we should have expected!
This one has had a mixed bag of reviews, some love it some hate it. Personally I just found the character of Elizabeth to be a bit unreliable, her husband sounded like a young petty man for the entirety of the story, which im sure he could have been but he never gets his karma and he never changes, so it’s a little monotonous. The children I don’t think spoke once through the whole tale, and there were far too many smaller side characters for my liking. I wanted to appreciate the relationships and the experience these characters had but I just didn’t get it because I’d forgotten their backstory by that point. I was actually wishing this one away, and wondering when it would pick up, or end.
Thanks to Cannongate and Netgalley for my advanced reading copy in exchange for my honest unbiased review.
Where to Buy:
WASHED DOWN WITH:
I picked this box of tea up on our last trip to Ikea as I do enjoy a cup of Rooibos and I like rosehip too! Rooibos is actually not a tea, it’s a bush that grows in South Africa, and so it’s caffeine free which makes it a wonderful afternoon tea if you’re concerned about caffeine keeping you awake! I also learnt from the lovely teapigs gang when on their tea school, that many athletes and Olympic teams drink Rooibos for muscle recovery, and as seen as I’ve been hitting the gym hard since it reopened, I wanted to give this a try. It’s honestly a really nice cup of tea, fruity and floral without being overly perfumed so I think it would suit readers who aren’t fans of fruit tea or perfumes but that are looking for something a little different. I can also report that I’ve not had any muscle aches when I’ve been drinking this tea and I’ve been weightlifting at very near pre-lockdown levels, so this is a definite thumbs up from me!
I can’t find the receipt or them listed on Ikea’s website to tell you how much these were, but I vaguely remember around £1.99, and you get 25 bags. Pick them up if you see them!
So guys, the sun is finally back out (Hurrah!!) so I think I may decide on a new book, brew a pot and get out in the sun.
Whatever you’re reading today or next week, I hope you enjoy it. If you do happen to pick this book up, let me know in the comments why and what you thought of it.
As always, find me on socials at @papyrusandpeppermint , otherwise I’ll catch up with you next week.
Until the next chapter,