Saturday, 17 October 2015

The Devil on her Tongue by Linda Holeman

Reviewer: Barbara Scott Emmett, author of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, The Land Beyond Goodbye and Don’t Look Down (

What We Thought: What a wonderful book! I am so glad to have been given the opportunity to read and review The Devil on her Tongue. This is the first book by Linda Holeman I have read but I will certainly be seeking out more. It’s a long book with a wide span covering the many vicissitudes of the heroine, Diamantina.

Though from different cultures (North African and Dutch), Diamantina’s parents both washed up on the shores of the Portugese island Porto Santo in the early years of the 18th century. Her mother, a former slave, is a curandeira – a healer, a midwife – and her father is a sailor thrown overboard for killing the abuser of a cabin boy. From this mixed parentage Diamantina learns both to use the herbs and potions of a wise woman, and to read and write and be astute in business. Staunchly individual, she forges her own path despite the disapproval of the local priest and the other islanders.

When her father leaves to mine diamonds in Brazil, Diamantina and her mother must somehow manage for themselves. Betrayed by the first young man she loves, Diamantina is forced to take on menial tasks in the church and in the inn. When her mother dies she marries a man she barely knows and moves to Madeira. And then her troubles really start.

A strong and capable young woman, she takes on the task of looking after her husband’s aging father and a young boy he brought home from Brazil. As the years pass she meets her first love again (who hasn’t improved), has her own child, works for a wine company, and gets caught up in the Lisbon earthquake.

At times I wanted Diamantina to speak up for herself more (though she does this a lot anyway) and explain how and why she came to act as she did. Her choices are often forced on her by circumstance yet she fully accepts responsibility for them. Her moral attitude and awareness of her own mistakes makes her blame herself when the reader is crying, ‘It’s not your fault!’

The Devil on her Tongue is a beautifully written novel. The prose is evocative and often poetic, the characters diverse, and the vast canvas of events makes for a substantial meaty read. The pace never falters and I found myself reading well into the night wanting to know what happened next. Excellent!

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Sprawling historical novels with lots of action.

Avoid if you dislike: Books about strong women.

Ideal accompaniments: A glass of vintage Sercial with cinnamon sprinkled pastéis de nata.

Genre: Historical Fiction.

Available on Amazon

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