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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Angel and Apostle by Deborah Noyes

Angel and Apostle by Deborah Noyes. Denver, Colorado: Unbridled Books, 2005. ISBN: 1-932961-10-0

I suppose I should have forced myself to go back and reread Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter before I read this book, but I didn't, and I probably won't. I confess, I'm too lazy. And I lack the inclination. Rereading The Scarlet Letter now would be too much like revisiting my adolescence, my high school years when I was required to read it originally.

This book is a sequel, you might say. The story is told from the perspective of the bastard daughter of Hawthorne's famous character, Hester Prynne, forced to wear a scarlet letter “A” in public recognition of her sin, pregnancy outside of marriage in 17th century Puritan New England. Pearl, this book's protagonist, is a free spirit, a child of the wild, constantly at war with herself and others, desperately trying to find her way in a society that, for the most part, scorns her and her mother.

Much of Pearl's story is caught up and intertwined with that of a young neighbor boy, Simon, who is blind. Pearl befriends Simon, but even their relationship is precarious, fraught with tension, indecision and mistrust.

Some years later, in England, Pearl marries Simon's older brother, Nehemiah, but not without misgivings and doubts. Should she have married Simon instead, we wonder? But in that era, a person like Simon is treated more like an invalid, or a child, than an adult human being. He has no education, no life, really. The relationship he has with Pearl is eventually his undoing, and hers too, at least to a degree.

This is a psychological novel, a novel of the mind. We live most of it inside Pearl's head and heart. And what a tumultuous and restless place that is! It is not, for the most part, a happy place, although there are times when Pearl is happy. Mostly when she is by herself, in the woods. Her relationships with others, including her own mother, are rarely sources of happiness, although she finds some solace with Simon.

Another off again, on again, relationship, is the one she has with her father. The man who she comes to know, little by little, but who has his own family in England, separate from her and her mother.

This is a difficult book to describe, and even more difficult to assess, or categorize. The only category to which I can easily assign it is to that of a modern sequel to a literary classic. I've been reading quite a few of these recently (over the past year or so). I lump these together mentally with books that are based on the actual lives of literary figures in some fashion or other. Edgar Allen Poe, Scott Joplin, Jane Austen, these are some of the people whose books or lives have been used as the starting point by more recent authors.

With varying degrees of success, as here. I give this one about a 4 out of 10 stars. Marginally recommended, though if this kind of thing is your thing, you'll probably enjoy it. If the idea of what happens next after The Scarlet Letter is intriguing, you might want to give it a shot.


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