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Review: Hester, by Paula Reed

Pages: 320
Original date of publication: 2010
My edition: 2010 (St. Martin's Press)
Why I decided to read: I won this through LTER
How I acquired my copy: mine from LTER never arrived, so I borrowed from the library instead, March 2010

Hester is the continued story of Hester Prynne, flawed heroine of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel. In this novel, which takes place roughly between the years of 1649 and 1660, Hester moves back to England, where she comes to the attention of Oliver Cromwell, who appreciates her for a certain talent she has: the ability to instantly see a person’s sins just by looking at them, a talent (or curse, depending on how you look at it) she acquired as a result of committing her own sins.

The novel has a lot of ground to cover, seeing as it takes the reader through the Protectorate of Cromwell and just beyond. What I didn’t particularly care for is that things happen rather quickly here. Hester strikes me as being a very strong woman, but also as someone who flips loyalties rather quickly, at the smallest sign of trouble. I never really understood her motives for switching so easily, or why she seemed unperturbed by it.

I also didn’t really “buy” the premise of the book, which I’ve discussed above—but seeing as the whole plot hinges on Hester’s abilities, you really have to suspend your sense of disbelief at the whole thing. Hester’s weird “sight” was especially unbelievable to me, as is the idea that she would be connected to Oliver Cromwell in the first place—and the book gets even more unbelievable from there, especially when Hester and Pearl are abroad. Despite my reservations about the book, however, I think that Paula Reed is an excellent writer, technically—I simply didn’t enjoy the characters or the plot of this book.


Clare said…
The conceit is that adultery gave her magical powers? That's... interesting...

I think that's too far out there for a Hawthorne reimagining, especially for Cromwell.
Anonymous said…
I find that whole genre of merging fictional characters from the classics and historical figures in new books a bit weird. It seems so un-necessary. For example, do you think the novel would have suffered if the heroine was an original character rather than Hester Pryne? And did she need to meet Cromwell? I had a similar issue with "Ahab's Wife"... it became a veritable who's who of cameos by literary and historical characters that I felt it was more of a distraction than anything else.
Kathleen said…
I always have a hard time with books that take classic characters and continue their story. I don't think I can recall an instance where it has been done well.
dolleygurl said…
I haven't read this book but I have noticed myself shy away from it. I didn't particularly love the original Hawthorne book, so the premise doesn't grab my attention too much. I can definitely understand and agree with the comments about merging classic characters with historical - it just doesn't have a great track record. Sometimes you should really leave well enough alone. Thanks for the review.

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