Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Eve's Daughters by Lynn Austin

To say that I loved Eve's Daughters would be an understatement. I drank in Eve's Daughters, turned each page with a contented sigh and was absolutely depressed when the final chapter rounded the bend.

Again, Lynn Austin is at top form crafting a multi-generational story involving four generations of women and their trials and triumphs: the men they loved, the mistakes they made, the eponymous “curse” that leads them to believe that one darkly hidden past mistake has ripples and ramifications brimming into the past and present.

The novel begins in 1980 with 80 year old Emma packing her belongings to move to a nursing home. Her daughter Grace and her grand-daughter Suzanne are nearby to help excavate the past. Suzanne is currently going through the first inklings of a divorce and Grace is still trying to reconcile with her childhood and discover why her father never wanted her and disappeared when she was quite young.

As is prevalent thematically in all of Austin's novels, the conceptualization of a woman's role is explored here: as Emma's mother is recalled and her migration from Germany to Pennsylvania shapes Emma's early life. Emma's formative years are traced against the backdrop of the years preluding the First War. As always, Austin perfectly captures the historical period and paints such a life-like canvas you get swept into the past and into the lives of her characters. This is not to mention the absolute perfection in which she rounds out a multi-dimensional cast of supporting characters: each springing life-like from the page and embodying the elements of grace, redemption, mistakes and forgiveness that form the whole of the tale.

The story is told in fractured narrative, often captapulting the reader back to the present and then stirring the past again: through Emma's great secret, Grace's lifelong search for a father and Suzanne's inability to reconcile her spirited nature with the confines of her mother's domestic example.

Christianity plays a role; but one sewn in the fabric of the tale and not blatantly at the front. It is implied and characterized and emblemized without ever being "preachy" Like most of Austin's novels, one need not be Christian to appreciate the wiles of her craft and the way she plays with you: at one point unravelling just enough of a mystery; while holding back and toying with unobstructed narration. The fill-in-the-blanks portion of each ( sometimes unreliable) narrator keeps the reader attempting to sew together the design of the finished product and to, once and for all, marry the past with the present-- uncovering the one devastating secret that has shaken the family to the core.

As While We're Far Apart features a Jewish protagonist and pairs Judaism with Protestant Christianity ( the wealth of Austin's market); Eve's Daughters does well in respectfully painting the life of the Irish Catholic experience at the beginning to mid 20th Century. The ultimate hero of the tale ( and a wonderfully realized character ) is Father O'Duggan: a flawed priest whose mistakes never fail to tarnish his witness as a man of Christ in a tortured world.

This is just exceptional writing: Christian or not, and reaffirms why Austin remains one of my favourite living writers: She catches you in all of the right places, makes every sentence seem relevant and current to each and every situation and validates your existence as a woman.

She's a strong, strong writer and those who have not dipped into her incredibly strong backlist ( I have yet to read a mediocre Austin novel ) are really, really, missing out.


Unknown said...

FABULOUS review, Rachel! Just think, just two months until her newest releases! :)

Kailana said...

I have been curious about her books for a while, but still haven't read anything. I must at some point!