Monday, 8 October 2012

The Taste of Sorrow by Jude Morgan

If you pressed me to choose, I would say that the Brontës are my favourite classic authors.  I love Jane Austen for her wit, the Russian masters for their epic tales and Stoker for his gothic horror, but the Brontës are just something special.  I've read Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Villette and Agnes Grey and every one was filled with such raw emotional intensity that I feel like the stories are burned in my brain.  Because of this, I approached The Taste of Sorrow with some trepidation.

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!

Source: Library
First Published: 2009
Edition Read: Headline Review, 2010
Score: 4.5 out of 5

22 comments:

  1. Oh, this book sounds so good! I'm a big Brontë fan myself and I totally relate to not fitting in anywhere, I've felt that way my whole life. I've never heard of this book either -- thank you for sharing it! :)

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    1. I think there are a lot of us that feel like we don't fit in - we should all go and colonise somewhere new together! I hope you do get a chance to read it, I think you would really enjoy it.

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  2. I will definitely be tracking down a copy of this after reading your review. The Bronte’s are also my favourite authors from the 19th century, as a young reader their books spoke to me in a way that no author had previously done and as much as I admire Austen and others the Bronte’s will always be favourite’s, partly because of the psychological honesty and intensity of their works.

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    1. Their books speak to me too, there's something about them that just clicks with my personality and character. As you mention, psychological honesty is a big part of that and Morgan captures it very well. I hope you get a chance to read this one :)

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  3. I read The Taste of Sorrow in 2010 and totally loved it - so glad you did too. I thought Jude Morgan captured the different personalities of the Bronte girls so well - it is my favourite of his books.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it too, Cat! I will definitely be reading some more of his books but this is a tough act to follow.

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  4. This is going on the must read list! I see Cat loved it too. They should make a movie about the Bronte family!

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    1. They must have made a movie at some point, considering how many there are about Austen? If not, this book would make great source material. Hope you get a chance to read it Missy, I'd love to see what you think of it.

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    2. There might be a movie, but they should make a new one with lots of beautiful scenery of the moors! That makes me excited to just think about it :-) I saw your review of Antonia Fraser's, The Gunpowder plot, and that is why I was thinking about reading Marie Antoinette: The Journey. I read your archives like a sourcebook of what to read. I love that you read such a variety.

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  5. I have this book on my shelf. This is a great review- now the book has moved up on my I-have-to-get-to-this-soon list!

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    1. Hope you like it Susan! Sometimes it's surprising what treasures we already have on our shelves :)

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  6. This sounds like a wonderful book, thank you so much for reviewing it. I hadn't heard of it and I'm off to request it from my library right now! Thanks again!

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    1. At first it didn't show up the search of my library's website. I did a search under the author's name and found it! It's titled Charlotte and Emily : a novel of the Brontës.

      From the library's website: First published as The Taste of Sorrow in Great Britain by Headline Review, an imprint of Headline Publishing Group.

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    2. I didn't know about the different name in the US, I never understand why publishers do that. And the new title is misleading as the novel is about Anne too (always the forgotten sister!). Hope you enjoy the book, whatever the title :)

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    3. Weird right? I'm just glad I figured it out so I could request it :)

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  7. I've yet to read one of the Bronte sisters' books, but after those, I'm sure I'll want to read The Taste of Sorrow! It seems like the author has done thorough research, sifting through the sisters' past so a fictional novel - but based on truthful events and characteristics - could be written. The best kind, really :)

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    1. I'm a bit jealous that you've not read any of the Bronte novels as you are in for such a treat! Villette is my favourite so far.

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  8. This is my favorite of Jude Morgan's novels, of the ones I've read so far. The US title is terrible, imho!

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  9. I have had a hit-and-miss experience with Morgan. I really enjoyed The King's Touch but am not a huge fan of his Regency era novels. I find them too light and populated by unmemorable characters. Perhaps his strength lies much more in the meaty, true-to-history stories such as this one.

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  10. I've heard such good things about Morgan's novels, this one in particular. I'm very picky about how my Brontes are portrayed, and it sounds like Morgan articulates them in a way that resonates with my image of them.

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  11. I've had this book to read for a long time and you've encouraged me to get on with reading it! I love the Brontes.

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