Monday, 6 January 2020

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

"No doubt you think this will be one of those slave histories, all sugared over with misery and despair? But who’d want to read one of those?" 

Frannie Langton was born a slave in Jamaica, educated for his own amusement by her master, then brought to London and given by to another man. Now she is in Newgate gaol, accused of murdering that man and his wife. And she is writing her confessions. But is she really the ‘Mulatta Murderess’?

Sara Collins darkly gothic historical novel explores, among other things, the way the institution of slavery distorted every human relationship, even that between mother and child. It exposes the ugliness of the roots of 'race science' and the vile length to which some were prepared to go to disprove the humanity of black people.

While still a young child, Frannie has been compelled to act as assistant to one such ‘scientist’. Being complicit in his experiments allows her a bare edge of privilege over the other slaves, and has given her a kind of Stockholm syndrome, so much so that she is outraged when she is given away to his erstwhile colleague, Benham.

But Benham has a wife, a troubled woman in some ways as trapped in her life as Frannie herself. Their relationship – passionate, sensual but bent out of shape as much by their power-imbalance as by Madam’s opium addiction – will lead Frannie to her cell in Newgate.

As Catherine Johnson’s Freedom did for young readers, The Confessions of Frannie Langton reclaims the long history of Black people in England. It shows up the hypocrisy of some, at least, of the anti-slavers, as well as those, like Benham, who imagine it is possible to ‘reform’ the institution.

"What no one will admit about the anti-slavers is that they’ve got a slaver’s appetite for misery, even if they want to do different things with it."

Even though her life hangs in the balance, Frannie refuses to dish up suffering to satisfy the appetites of the public, or to use her thrall either to opium or to her erstwhile slavemaster as convenient excuse. Whatever she has or has not done, Frannie will own it.

Collins’ writing is rich with period detail without being weighed down by it.From the slave plantation – called, with the bleakest of irony, Paradise – to the Benhams’ London town house, to the city’s brothels and boxing rings, each time and place is vividly evoked.

A stunning debut that is an unsurprising winner of the Costa First Novel Award.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Washington Black by Esi Edugyan; The Long Song by Andrea Levy; Beloved by Toni Morrison; Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe

Avoid If You Dislike: Gothic Flavoured Historical Fiction

Perfect Accompaniment: Raisin cake, golden and sweet with sugar

Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction

Buy This Book Here

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