HarperCollins very kindly sent me a copy of Tracy Chevalier's new novel The Last Runaway.
There were so many elements of this novel that interest me; Quakerism, American history and of course quilting. My maternal grandparents were Quaker and I have been an attender myself, obviously I quilt too, so I was excited to read this book and I wasn't disappointed! I have had to stop myself from writing an essay (I could... there are so many things to discuss about this novel) but here is a quick idea of what the book is about and my review of it.
The story is set in 1850s Ohio during the last days of slavery and follows the protagonist, Honor Bright, as she settles in a Quaker community after travelling from England.
Honor is a likeable, slightly naive character and it's easy to warm to her. The people she encounters really shape who she becomes and I found myself waiting for some of them to appear again in the story because they were so alluring.
The structure of The Last Runaway makes for an enjoyable read, with elements of the story covered in letters both to her family and best friend back home, and enough drama to keep a good pace - the kind where you want to read just one more chapter! It is not an obvious tale and there are twists that keep you guessing about everyone's fate. The story isn't overly dramatic though and I appreciated Tracy Chevalier's subtle and unpretentious style.
The intertwining of tales of the slaves, the Underground Railroad and Quaker beliefs was fascinating and the moral/religious/cultural opinions and differences are well construed. As were the smaller details, the styles of quilting and ways of life that varied between the American and English.
Honor had always preferred patchwork to applique, feeling that to sew pieces of fabric on top of large squares of material was somehow cheating, a shortcut compared to the harder task of piecing together hundreds of bits of fabric, the colours blended so that the whole was graduated and unified and made a pleasing pattern. Though some quilters despaired of the rigid geometry and the accuracy required for making patchwork, to Honor it was a happy challenge.
- The Last Runaway, Tracy Chevalier
Obviously as a quilter it was so interesting to discover not only the different blocks they would have been making but also the quilting styles. Tracy clearly did a great amount of research for this novel and she even learnt to quilt herself. The characters so well describe the joys and frustrations of quilting. Honor even struggles with making things she doesn't love (we've all been there!). Even the way the notions, quilt designs and quilting history are recounted is enchanting and these were probably some of the parts I loved the most.
Honor sat and opened her sewing box to lay out her things. This ritual, at least, was familiar. The sewing box had belonged to her grandmother, who, when her sight began to fail, handed it on to the best stitcher among her granddaughters. Made of walnut wood, it had a padded needlepoint cover of lilies of the valley in green and yellow and white. This was an image Honor had known from an early age; eyes shut, she could perfectly recreate it in her mind, as she had often done to distract herself during her seasickness.
- The Last Runaway, Tracy Chevalier
It is not often I immediately want to reread a book but that's what I am doing!
What better way to celebrate World Book Day than with a good book and, thanks to HarperCollins, you can win your own copy of The Last Runaway. In fact they are giving away 10 copies to my lucky readers!
**GIVEAWAY NOW CLOSED**
The winners will be drawn on Monday 11th March by random.org
The Last Runaway will be released on 14th March and I highly recommend it.