A DESPERATE FORTUNE
544 pages Print & E-book
E-Galley provided by publisher for review. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own unless otherwise noted.
“My father said, we do not always get the things we want…”
For nearly 300 years, the mysterious journal of Jacobite exile Mary Dundas has lain unread – its secrets safe from prying eyes.
Now, amateur codebreaker Sara Thomas has been hired by a once-famous historian to crack the journal’s cipher. But when she arrives in Paris, Sara finds herself besieged by complications from all sides: the journal’s reclusive owner, her charming Parisian neighbor, and Mary, whose journal doesn’t hold the secrets Sara expects.
As Mary’s tale grows more and more dire, Sara, too, must carefully choose which turning to take…to find the road that will lead her safely home.
I loved the last book I read by Susanna Kearsley, THE FIREBIRD, which also flipped back and forth from the past to the present as does this book, A DESPERATE FORTUNE. THE FIREBIRD had a similar romantic setup but also had a paranormal element this one doesn’t.
I do not know if all of Kearsley’s stories feature this past and present device, but where it works in THE FIREBIRD in this book the lack of the paranormal connection made the stories too disparate.
I really couldn’t bring myself to care about the characters of the present-day story line. We get a young math/coding/crypto whiz with Aspergers. (Another theme! I also just read the Rosie Project which features Aspergers as well). Her cousin has been her best friend, advocate and protector since childhood, but seems to have become bitter, unlikeable and self-serving.
She sets up Sara to decipher a diary of Mary Dundas, the daughter of a Jacobite wigmaker in exile. Mary has lived most of her life with an aunt and uncle but when her brother comes to supposedly take her to live with him, but then sends her on a secret Jacobite mission, she enters into a life fraught with intrigue, danger and characters who are not who they seem to be.
Mary’s staid life becomes an adventure and highlights how a woman could be treated solely as a commodity and as so much flotsam and jetsam in the tide.
The diary is not what anyone expects, but it is the lack of connection through the thread of time that just doesn’t work for me.
The present day character, Sara stays at the home of the woman who owns the diary, an old friend of the author who seeks the translation. The France where Sara is staying is a very stereotypical France of books and movie, something out of time. The characters there are not stereotypical, but neither are they well developed; this leads me to find their motives suspect.
Only the main character from the past, Mary, is well-developed. The rest are like the characters in a Tarot Deck – if the Tarot deck contained the loyal warrior, the child’s nurse, the uncaring brother and the swindler. But Mary does grow and her experiences completely change her understanding of the world and people.
One theme that I am still considering is the way Mary’s family considers her as a commodity to be used and discarded and her ability to go on after realizing she matters little to them. That’s a tough thing to work past, and hard to understand, but it is her family’s disregard that turns her into an accidental adventuress.
The prose is often poetic, transcendent even and was the high point in my experience of the book. And, her research and grasp of the recorded historical events, and how she braids her fictional constructions into the actual events, is masterful. But pretty prose and research do not make a story, and I did not find it was enough to make this story seem less interminable. I had a really hard time getting through it; every time I got interested, the time shift between story lines made me have to try to care all over again.
B & N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-desperate-fortune-susanna-kearsley/1119462542?ean=9781492602026