Local Customs

My latest Evergreen book was Local Customs by Audrey Thomas. It’s loosely based on the true story of Letty Landon, a writer in the 183o’s, and her marriage to George Maclean that transplants her from London to West Africa. A few months later she’s daed, seemingly by her own hand.

The story is primarily told from Letty’s posthumous point of view, quite an interesting technique. We also get passages from other main characters, but what I especially liked was the way some passages ended with dialogue asides from the characters. I really liked this, it kind of reminded me of watching a DVD with the cast and crew commentary turned on. It’s like seeing the story unfold while also getting all these voices jumping in and saying ‘this is what I meant by that comment,’ or ‘I was thinking that action would lead to this result’ – it’s just getting that little bit of extra perspective that really makes this novel stand out.

I have to be honest, certain parts of this book made me really uncomfortable. Living in Canada in this day and age I’m just used to a certain way of being, and this book had a definite ‘Us and Them’ vibe to it. I just had to keep reminding myself Thomas was representing a certain time and place very different from my own.

The ending is kind of ambiguous, understandable given that this is based on historical facts. I think Thomas did something really interesting though – there’s one passage where the actual text is a bit different from the rest. At first I thought this was just a printing error, but having read the novel and thought about it for a while, I think that passage was actually the key to the mystery. Overall this was a skillfully crafted text, one that I think I will be reading again.

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