Monday, 8 October 2012
The Taste of Sorrow by Jude Morgan
A fictional account of the lives of Emily, Charlotte and Anne following the death of their mother, The Taste of Sorrow ends with Charlotte's marriage to Arthur Nicholls. Although Charlotte is the main narrator, Morgan follows each of the sisters and their brother, Branwell, as they struggle to make their way in a world that doesn't quite fit them. Sent away to an unfeeling boarding school at a young age, Charlotte must watch her older sisters Maria and Elizabeth sicken and then pass away with consumption. Forced to grow up quickly, the three remaining sisters work as governesses (none of them enjoying it), toy with the idea of opening a school before finally turning to writing and achieving commercial success. But life is never easy and there are many sorrows for each of them as the book proceeds.
It's always a risk writing a fictional account of historical figures but for Morgan, the risk pays off. He captures that mysterious, other-worldly element the Brontës are famous for whilst also showing their every-day lives. Each sister is how I imagined they would be. Emily is aloof and unconcerned with what society thinks of her and Anne is more sensible and worldly. I've always enjoyed Charlotte's books the most because of the remarkable perceptiveness in them and Morgan captures this too. All three sisters feel emotion intensely and that fits what I've seen about intelligent people in 'real life'; I'm sure depression must be a health hazard for intellectual capacity. The subject of genius is touched upon, but Morgan also shows us the years of practise the sisters had at writing before they wrote their most famous books. That feeling of not fitting in anywhere is something experienced by all three sisters and something most readers will be able to relate to.
The outstanding feature of The Taste of Sorrow is definitely the characterisation. The narrative shifts between the sisters and Branwell rapidly, but because all of the characters are developed, this isn't a problem. There are sections in the book where the narrative becomes repetitive, particularly concerning their experiences as governesses, whilst at other times events happen very quickly. I don't think there was a need to include parts about all of the homes the sisters worked in as a lot of the emotions involved were very similar. Contrastingly, I wanted more about getting their novels published for the first time and the attention they received.
On the whole, The Taste of Sorrow is a sensitive, character-driven portrayal of the lives of the Brontë sisters. I was thoroughly impressed with how Morgan wrote about each sister and their sense of being apart from the world around them. I think this book will be especially powerful for anyone who has ever felt different or for anyone who feels emotions strongly. I am prone to ups and downs myself and it was this that hooked me into the book completely as I related to the sisters and it's rare to see these kinds of emotions being examined properly. Highly recommended, and not just for fans of the classics!
First Published: 2009
Edition Read: Headline Review, 2010
Score: 4.5 out of 5