Friday 31 July 2015

The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo by Catherine Johnson

With everything marvellous, everything new
We’ll trace a description of Miss CARABOO
And where did she come from? and who can she be?
Did she fall from the sky? did she rise from the sea?
From the Bath Herald, June 1817

Published by Corgi (Random House) in July 2015
288 pages in paperback
Cover by Laura Bird and Bella Otak

Summary from Publisher’s website
Set in the early nineteenth century, this is incredible story of the ultimate historical hustle, based on the true story of Mary Wilcox.
A very curious tale indeed . . .
Out of the blue arrives an exotic young woman from a foreign land. Fearless and strong, 'Princess' Caraboo rises above the suspicions of the wealthy family who take her in.
But who is the real Caraboo?
In a world where it seems everyone is playing a role, could she be an ordinary girl with a tragic past? Is she a confidence trickster? Or is she the princess everyone wants her to be?
Whoever she is, she will steal your heart . . .

I love historical fiction –and I loved Sawbones, Catherine Johnson’s previous work in this genre. I hoped I would thoroughly enjoy this one too – and I was not disappointed. 
It is a deceptively easy-to-read book. You can just lose yourself in that Georgian world in moments – and find hours have gone by. Based on a true story (with some really interesting notes at the back if you like that sort of extra), it doesn’t clobber you over the head with that I’ve done my research so I’m putting it all in even if it cripples the story thing. It’s a fine dramatic tale in its own right – but there’s more than that. If you want to delve deeper, it can be a meditation on the nature of selfhood – which is particularly affecting with a person-of-colour as the central character.
Despite the charming cover, I wouldn’t recommend it for a sensitive or very young reader. The beginning is quite brutal – though thoughtfully portrayed. Indeed, thoughtful is the word. I admired how sensitively the male characters were handled, and the central themes of identity and imagination are beautifully realised. We get right inside the main characters’ heads and the contrast of the two young women in particular is fascinating. This makes it sound rather serious and worthy – but actually the story fairly bounces along with both incident and humour. There’s also a thought-provoking look at love and desire.
I find it hard to imagine anyone not admiring Caraboo’s spirit. Without giving any spoilers (after all, it is based on a true story) I’d query the word ‘hustle’ in the blurb above. It’s a lot more interesting and ambiguous than that. There’s plenty here to fascinate readers from secondary school upwards – including adults. I rather wish someone would make a TV series out of it!

1 comment:

  1. This seems like an interesting read, will hopefully get around to picking it up! Thanks for another fantastic review :)


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