Skip to main content

Review: The Land of Spices, by Kate O'Brien


Pages: 285
Original date of publication: 1941
My edition: 1990 (Virago Modern Classics)
Why I decided to read: read it for All Virago/All August
How I acquired my copy: Ebay, June 2010


Set in an Irish convent school in the early years of the 20th century, The Land of Spices is a novel that covers the school career of Anna Murphy, who comes to Compagnie de la Sainte Famille at the ago of six. She attracts the attention of the Reverend Mother, an Englishwoman who watches Anna from afar during the eight or ten years that Anna remains at the school.

I’ve had good luck and bad with Kate O’Brien’s novels; I disliked The Ante Room but loved Mary Lavelle. The Land of Spices falls into the “love” category for me. I wasn’t sure that a novel set in a convent school would be my cup of tea, but the novel in a greater sense is about human relationships, not just religion and spiritually. It’s also obviously a coming of age novel, about how one girl changes and adapts to her surroundings, even though her home life isn’t ideal. There’s an interesting contrast with the life of Reverend Mother, whose past as Helen Archer is revealed bit by bit. They have an unspoken bond with one another, even though Anna doesn’t realize it. There are some really beautiful observations here about the impact that two totally different people can have on one of another.

My only problem with the book is that throughout the book there are excerpts of letters written in French and other languages, which reveal key plot points but are kind of meaningless if you don’t speak those languages. But in all, this is a really powerful book.

Comments

Lisa May said…
This was the first of her novels that I read, and none of the others have quite measured up to this one. Isn't Mary Lavelle meant to be sort of a sequel, with different characters - if that makes sense? I've had it on my TBR pile for years but haven't read it yet.

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Pages: 972 Originally published: 1944 My edition: 2000 (Chicago Review Press) How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, 2004

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is…

Review: Jane Austen's Letters, ed. by Deirdre Le Faye

Pages: 667 Original date of publication: 2011 My copy: 2011 (Oxford University Press) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, April 2013
This is a compilation of many of Jane Austen’s letters, most of them sent to her sister Cassandra between 1796 and 1817, the year of her death. Although many of Austen’s letters were destroyed by her sister in order to preserve the family reputation, the collection contains over 160 letters in which Austen gives her sister details about her life in Chawton—as well as giving us a tantalizing glimpse of what was going through her mind as she was writing her novels (especially the novel that was to become Pride and Prejudice, First Impressions). There are other letters here, too, giving advice to her niece and professional correspondence to publishers—as well as a couple of letters that were written by Cassandra Austen after Jane’s death.
To the sisters, the letters acted in the way that phone calls do today; Austen’s news is all about pe…

Review: The Tudor Secret, by CW Gortner

Pages: 327Original date of publication:My edition: 2011 (St. Martin’s)Why I decided to read: Heard about this through Amazon.comHow I acquired my copy: Amazon Vine, December 2010Originally published as The Secret Lion, The Tudor Secret is the first in what will be a series featuring Brendan Prescott, an orphan foundling who was raised in the household of the Dudley family. In 1553, King Edward is on his deathbed, and William Cecil gives a secret mission Brendan. Soon he finds himself working as a double agent, as he attempts to discover the secret of his own birth.There ‘s a lot to like in this novel, mainly in the historical details that the author weaves into the story. He knows Tudor history like the back of his hand, and it definitely shows in this book. Because it was his first novel, however, there are some rough patches. There were a couple of plot holes that I had trouble navigating around—primarily, why would a secretive man such as Cecil entrust a seemingly nobody with this …