From Publishers Weekly
This debut novel from Charles Darwin's great-great-granddaughter combines fiction, history and family legacy. Having lost a leg at the Battle of Waterloo, Stephen Fairhurst, ensconced at Kersey Hall, is not surprised that Hetty Greenshaw rejects his marriage proposal. But he is caught off guard when he finds he can share his darkest thoughts with Hetty's independent, artistic sister, Lucy Durward, who is fascinated by early attempts at photography. When Lucy accompanies Hetty and Hetty's new husband to Europe, Stephen escorts them around the battlefield where he once fought. Alternating with Stephen and Lucy's tale is the story of 15-year-old Anna Ware, left at Kersey Hall with her Uncle Ray in 1976 while her mother vacations. Uncle Ray has just shut down Kersey Hall School and taken in Anna's grandmother, a cruel drunk. Anna befriends neighbors Eva and Theo, who introduce her to photography and teach her about love. Darwin describes art, photography and warfare in meticulous detail. A gifted observer and novice storyteller, she loses her narrative way focusing on secondary characters (Stephen's mistress, the neglected boy Cecil), but she finds it in Anna's voice, Stephen's story and her portrait of Lucy. (Jan.)
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As two first-person narrators alternately tell their stories, more than a century and a half apart, the tales intertwine. Major Stephen Fairhurst, who lost a leg and the woman he loved in the Napoleonic Wars, is managing his Lancashire estate, Kersey Hall, in 1819, when he meets Lucy Durward, a forthright artist impatient with the social conventions of her time. Fifteen-year-old Anna Ward is sent alone to Kersey Hall, a newly bankrupt school run by an uncle she never met, in 1976. Photographers Eva and Theo, who live together nearby, give Anna work, training, and friendship (which goes beyond the bounds with Theo). The two stories are linked by copies of Stephen's letters, which Anna receives from a friend of Eva and Theo's, and an old daguerreotype. The novel is slow to take off, with potential confusion about narrators early on and predictable tales of love later; and Fairhurst's account is the stronger of the two, with better-developed characters and more depth. Still, elements echoing between the two narrations add interest, and first novelist Darwin displays definite literary skills. Michele LeberCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved