The Arrival of Missives by Aliya Whiteley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I've read some good novellas lately, but this one is, in a word, fantastic.
It is very British though. That is, the prose is lovely and precise and languid, and the narrative is slow and restrained, until that moment, not too far along (at least that's what happened to me) when you realize you've been thoroughly pulled in, and you can't put the book down.
This is a story of fate, and power, and a heroine who realizes, as stated in the book's final paragraphs:
His presence gives me an optimism I have not felt in months. I will find the other rocks, and I will smash them all. I will wage war against those that deem me, and others like me, unimportant.
I will fight to make this world a better one.
The protagonist, one Shirley Fearn, does not start out like this. This book's setting is just after the Great War (World War I) and the Spanish influenza. The year is not named, but as best as I can figure out it is in May of 1919. In the beginning, Shirley is a lovestruck seventeen-year-old, infatuated with her teacher, one Mr Tiller. She dreams of attending school in the next village, becoming a teacher herself, and returning to her home village to marry Mr Tiller. The journey from who she is at the beginning of the story to the firebrand she becomes at the end is fascinating in and of itself, but the impetus behind this journey makes the book unforgettable.
But most of all, this is a story of perception. One of the most important plot twists takes place near the end, when we view an event through Shirley's eyes that has previously been described by Mr Tiller. This event motivates Mr Tiller throughout the book, and leads to a murderous decision of his own. But when Shirley sees what Mr Tiller has seen, she notices something that turns the entire narrative inside out. This sneaks up on the reader on soft little cat feet, but when you realize what it means for the story...it's breathtakingly well done.
This should be on all the awards ballots this year. It's just that good.
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