The House Girl by Tara Conklin
Published By: William Morrow,
an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers (@HarperCollins) 12, February 2013 [hardback]
Published By: William Morrow Paperbacks, 5, November 2013 [paperback]
Official Author Websites: Conklin on Facebook; Conklin on Twitter;
Personal Website and Contributor @ Popcorn the Blog.
Available Formats: Paperback, Hardback, and E-Book Page Count: 400
Converse on Twitter: #TheHouseGirl
Acquired Book By: Book Browse First Impressions Programme: I received a complimentary ARC in exchange for my honest review on Book Browse, from the publisher William Morrow. The House Girl was amongst the offerings for November 2012, as this book was published in February 2013. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared therein or herein. On Being a Part of the Blog Book Tour: Whilst I submitted my application to work with TLC Book Tours, I had mentioned that I have read this particular book as I noted they were going to launch a blog book tour for it in November 2013; to celebrate the paperback release! I thought it would be nice to participate in a blog book tour on behalf of a book that truly not only captivated my imagination but is of a story that I have never fully let go of since I put the book down! I was thankful to be placed on the tour! Therefore, this is my second reading of this story based on the ARC I previously received. I will juxtaposition my original thoughts alongside my new impressions as they are revealed! I did not receive compensation for my participation on this book tour! Inspired to Re-Visit: As a reader there are always those particular books that stand out to us, stories and characters who have a way of transforming our perspective as much as endearing us to a particular time in history that was wholly different from the time we live in ourselves. These are the stories that challenge us to dig into the heart of the narrative to seek out the truth of which the writer is imparting to us. Through their words of choice, as much as the fingering nudges they urge us to open our eyes to, a portion of history that is hard to reconcile even today. They endeavour us to seek humanity and empathy as they seek to obliterate social prejudices whilst revealing a story that is not only multi-layered but dimensionally complex. This is one of those stories that leaves you ruminative as you close the book sleeves and sit pondering the greater message that has been revealed in its ending.
Listen to an Excerpt:
The House Girl by Tara Conklin
Slipping Back in Time and Forward Again:
Conklin weaves her narrative forward and backwards between Josephine’s world in the mid to late 1800s, and Lina’s in the present day, given us the full force of each woman’s plight as their individual circumstances start to unfold. Josephine is not a free slave when the story begins, as she earnestly wants to run to freedom and enter into a new life she has dared not allow herself to imagine. Her sole friend and confidante was Lottie, a woman of passionate faith mixed with an indomitable spirit despite the hardship of loss she has suffered. The two women forged a friendship which consoled Josephine as the years waxed onward. Their lives were always interrupted by the absence of sold-off slaves, of whom they had grown attached too and suddenly never knew what had become of them next. The worst part of their lives was the broken connections between friends, family, and offspring. No living histories could be formed in other words, which led many to question and wonder what ever became of anyone they had ever known.
Lina on the other hand, is caught between where her life has led her and where her heart is leading her to go next. She is harbouring deep seeded anguish murmuring from her past into her present, as she attempts to break free once and for all. She has closed her heart to seeking out a way to let love back into her life as she has walled herself against being close to anyone who could bring her discomfort or loss. What she wasn’t realising is that a life without love is a sure way to live a half-fulfilled life which would only bring regret in the end. The ability to make two cornerstone eras reminiscent through narrative, dialogue, and elemental knowledge of the eras themselves is a nodding to how Conklin fuses the story within the time setting of The House Girl. She diverts your mind from realising there is a time slip happening as you shift further into the folds of the novel, soaking in the natural world through Josephine’s eyes and taking in the repulsive angst of a reparations case in Lina’s. Whichever setting you find yourself present in per chapter you’re not in your current time and place, but rather are living through the spirit and eyes of Conklin’s lead heroines. As for me, both Josephine and Lina are heroines in their own rights, having transcended everything that was holding them back.
My Review of The House Girl [one year later] for TLC Book Tours:
The story opens inside an ordinary day in Josephine’s, where she has to endure more abuse from her Master. Her eye is always attached to the outside world noticing the most insignificant details. It’s in these details her true freedom begins. She drinks in a piece of joy whilst walking barefoot in the grass, a moment for her that meant more than what could be observed in its simplicity. She was bourne into a world of unjust rules thrust upon her and those like her to live with the heaviest of burdens without the rights afforded to them. To live in a world where you had no say in what became of you is the hardest part of the story to drink in as a reader. Your heart starts to grieve as Josephine and Lottie’s intimate conversations paint the stark realities of their world. Where even the necessity of medical care was not given as an option. Her only resolve was to focus on the task at hand which gave her a purpose for the hour. It wasn’t enough to keep her thoughts away from running, but it helped to keep her focus off her nerves.
As time slips back into the present, Lina comes into view as a lawyer bent under the pressures of being on the fast track to success. A slave in her own right to the work load she is drowning inside. Lina suffers from lack of self-esteem and self-confidence in both her work ethic and her abilities to provide the services her clients are in need of most. She finds that her position at the law firm is all but redundant as the work she puts in is not even close to being necessary. She is finding that her role in life is being a cog in the wheel to where her fated course is up to someone else. She has missed the ability to feel as though she is making a difference rather than only doing what is expected of her. When she is assigned the reparations case to seek a living heir through the descendants of Josephine Bell and to provide proof of provenance for the artwork which was recovered (as there is an issue of who the artist actually was), she finds her true self. She starts to shed the outer barrier that kept her at a distance from becoming close to others and starts to find her voice through following the path of Josephine; the house girl who dreamt of freedom in the Underground Railroad.
In direct comparison, here is my Original Review for Book Browse First Impressions:
Art Redeems the Soul
Josephine Bell is the catalyst that launches an inquiry into the historical past, to unearth the mystery of what happened to the artist who fashioned the artwork that survived time. Her story is not unlike others in her class and station, in the late 1800’s. A slave bound to her Master’s wife, as a house girl confined to their land and their rules. A life that would have gone unnoticed until an unsuspecting lawyer (Lina) in the 21st century (early 2000’s) is giving the task to unearth data on a case that would give back redemption to those who have all but been erased by modern history. This isn’t just a story that evokes the tragedy of those enslaved in the South, but rather a silver lining of Hope… that their lives took on greater meaning and purpose when their lives started to intersect with others. It’s through this intersection where the ripples of small kindnesses and hours of bravery, began to change the lives of others. I found that inside the secondary characters held within the House Girl, the simplest of truths to step forward. Peace with Self. Strength in Resolve. Determined Self Reliance. And the hope of freedom. Oppression comes in different forms, as even those who live free are not always free to do what their hearts desire.
I believe this would make an excellent addition to an Art History class or a Civil Rights class which focuses on slavery in the South. The tone of the book is uplifting, shattering past the blights of misery to yield a lens into how strong women can be in the moments that count the most.
My cross-comparison of my feelings separated by a year between readings:
Initially when I first read The House Girl, I had a lot of thoughts and feelings running through my head at the time I was reading the narrative, so much in fact, I nearly felt like I should have a blog to write everything down and share with other readers! Fast forward to when I was applying to be a tour hostess for TLC Book Tours, and the opportunity arose to re-read this lovely novel that never quite left my conscience since I originally read it! All those swirling thoughts started to re-surface, but I tried to keep them at bay, in order to best re-visit a book I had previously read! I liked the challenge of this particular book tour, as it would stretch me completely outside my comfort zone as I have never re-read a book for a tour beforehand! I liked the fact that I would have to not only challenge my heart to approach the story with a new pair of eyes but to keep myself focused on the hidden depths of the novel that I might have overlooked or missed during my first reading!
Therefore, I can attest that as I was musing about the message of The House Girl, I found myself a bit at a loss for words to purport it into focus in a clear and even paragraph. This is a novel that is best read by feeling the story by your heart and the evoking emotions that comes out of internalising the story you’ve just read. I was deeply attached to each character at different parts of the story’s thread, as you get to see different pieces of their souls shining through at different intervals. In my mind, there wouldn’t have been much to lament about on Lina’s behalf if Josephine Bell hadn’t been in her life; likewise, I feel as though Josephine Bell’s life was to give a living testament and tribute to her descendants once the provenance of her artwork was discovered. The greater truth I think is the perception we have of blood relations and the essence of who we are on the outside as a mirror image of who we are on the inside.
The House Girl challenges the perception of ancestral lines and blood ties as passed down through the generations from the original start of a hereditary chain. It seeks to point to the truth of who we are as a society and who we endeavour to become. I still stand by what I spoke about a year ago, as there is such a determined spirit to The House Girl, as far as taking bold steps to overcome your circumstances as much as being bold in your faith when you feel all hope has been lost. As you unravel the heart of the story, you start to see the other layers which were intuitively stitched into the tapestry of Josephine and Lina’s entwined story-lines. Even now, a full year later, I find that my final sentence in my original review is the key for me to think back upon this story with fond affection: The tone of the book is uplifting, shattering past the blights of misery to yield a lens into how strong women can be in the moments that count the most.
Empathy wrapped inside Sophisticated Prose:
Ms. Conklin has a wonderful ability for drawing empathy and compassion out of her narrative whilst wrapping her story inside sophisticated prose which speaks to a higher message. Her willingness to delve into the deeper levels of humanity and uncertainty for each of her characters’ lives, gives the reader a first-hand impression of where the story led her to go as she wrote it. I was struck by her honest way of writing the time slip between Josephine and Lina, to where neither century felt forced or conjectured. She uses words to paint the time eclipse of each woman on the cusp of a season of change arriving into their lives when they least expect a change to be possible. Each woman is seeking her own true self and a freedom of their past they were not expecting to receive. It’s in this honesty that Conklin performs the best visually, as she uncovers the nibblings of the human spirit as evoked through the emotional shiftings of her two protagonists. Reading through The House Girl you gather the sense that the story itself had an equally powerful effect on its writer. And, I suppose that begs to ask the question, “Are stories written by their writers solely, or are stories evoked out of a seed of a story that alights in a writer’s mind as needing to be told?”
Inspired to Share: Ms. Conklin talks about her journey towards publishing The House Girl, and how like Lina, she was a lawyer originally but technically still feels in her heart she is still a lawyer. Her novel started as a seed of an idea and developed into a novel. I must have tapped into this rather intuitively as it was true! I found it interesting how the slave doctor catapulted her muse to follow where the story was leading her. As you listen to her experiences as a litigator as it cross-compares to her life as a writer, she has a fascinating beginning to her writing career. Research and writing as a litigator was a natural progression for Conklin to become a novelist. I find this most intriguing, as I hadn’t realised how much research and writing goes into being a litigator! One of the more compelling things she discloses is how she became a wordsmith of the mid-to-late 1800s by keeping a journal of words she had read inside letters of the time. I appreciated her speaking about the aspect of ‘freedom’, as I have oft believed myself that true freedom lies in the simplicity. She loved the short story format but never thought she could create a novel! She happily surprised herself. I highly recommend taking the time to see the interview in full!
Tara Conklin Interview by the Pacific Northwest Writers Association
on Bill Kenower [Author, Magazine Editor] Channel
The “The House Girl” Virtual Book Tour Roadmap:
- 5 November: Review @ Read Lately
- 7 November: Review @ A Bookish Affair
- 11 November: @ Books in the Burbs
- 12 November: Review @ Jorie Loves a Story
- 13 November: @ Peppermint PhD
- 14 November: @ Lavish Bookshelf
- 18 November: @ Olduvai Reads
- 19 November: @ BoundbyWords
- 20 November: @ Book-alicious Mama
- 26 November: @ A Bookish Way of Life
I hope to be a regular tour hostess with:
until then, check up my upcoming Bookish Events Featured on JLAS!
Copyright © Jorie Loves A Story, 2013.
“This is one of those stories that leaves you ruminative as you close the book sleeves and sit pondering the greater message that has been revealed in its ending.”
I’m still ruminating…there’s so much to this story to think about. I so enjoyed reading your review :)
Ooh, I know you as your handle: Peppermint, Ph.D! I didn’t realise your name was Patti! What a clever tie-in to your blog! :) As one of my favourite Wintry drinks is a ‘peppermint patty’!! :) I’ll always remember you now! I am going to read your ruminations lateron when I come back after soaking up the Christmas Heart and Spirit on Hallmark Channel! (always my favourite ‘treat’ of the season!!)
The layers of depth that Conklin infused into her story will always leave me with a new inter reflection to muse about! I am thankful to see that you shared not only a passion for the story but that you found your own thoughts speaking through my review! How lovely!
Thank you and I look forward to seeing you drop by again!
Thank you for such a thoughtful review and for being a part of the tour! I’m really looking forward to reading the book.
I really need to read this! I love reading stories about characters separated by different times like this, even though I don’t read them often enough!
And I loved being able to see your two reviews back to back like this. :)
Thank you for feedback on this particular review as it was the first time I was in a position to where I could cross-compare my thoughts and reflections between two separate readings of the same story! :) And, yes, I agree with you that time slip stories have a great appeal! I am finding myself attracted to this particular style more and more!
You’ll have to let me know how you felt about the story when you get a chance to read it.