After a hedonistic December I am taking on the challenge of a sober January which so far a few days in has not been to bad. Cue the first Thursday night drinking session with work and we shall see if ‘Orange juice and Lemonade’ or ‘Tonic hold the gin’ will be greeted with restraint and will power. So what are your New Years resolutions? Apart from sober January I vow not to bite my nails [that will be year five of that resolution!], to drink less [herald sober January], to start Bikram Yoga [Sweating! Yum!] and of course no doubt our communal vow at The Beat That My Heart Skipped [that includes you] to read more? So lets kick off with this weeks read The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff. Both myself and my bookish editor Rohini have been reading this and both agreed that although not a new release it is one of those books we have been meaning to read but haven’t yet got around to.
The closest thing I had got to polygamy was Big Love on Channel 5 which was rudely stopped without the second series. As Chloe Sevigny is one of my main style icons I was immediately smitten with the Amish look but less smitten with the ideal of being wife ‘number three’ or in this books case ‘number nineteen!’ Say Mormon to me and I immediately have images of the Osmonds especially Donny and some sort of idea of hessian underwear. To say I am not up on my Latter Day Saints history is an understatement! Much like Big Love, I loved this book and couldn’t put it down [you can keep Donny Osmond and his Puppy Love].
The book is endorsed by many a literary reviewers glowing quotes so it really isn’t surprising that you are in for a great read however the actual weight of the book even for an avid reader is a little daunting. The book is thankfully set out in small chunks and chapters and written with various voices and view points making it a long but gripping page turner. I didn’t want it to end! There are two simultaneous stories working at the same time. One is of Ann Eliza the 19th Wife, who I was pleased to find out was a real historical figure. As the 19th Wife of The Prophet of the Latter Day Saints community she tells the story of how she ended up as the wife of Brigham Young a man much her senior, and how in time she left the community and lectured on the ills of polygamy. Her high profiled divorce was a scandal of the day and through dedicated research from Ebershoff this comes to life beautifully in the retelling of the story from her voice. I found her tone beautifully convincing with her air being so human that she appears not the perfect heroine, making the story even more compelling.
The second story is set in modern day around an ex-First and Latter Day Saint Jordan Scott who was excommunicated for holding a girls hand when he was in his early teens. Managing to survive despite being dumped alone into the world he has learns through only watching the news that his mother and coincidentally also a wife ‘number nineteen’ has shot his father and it looks to be an open and shut case that she is guilty. Jordan does not believe that his mother was capable of murder and brings himself to revisit Mesadale the place he had tried to shut from his mind. He visits her in jail and begins digging into his past despite his obvious hesitations. The world of the Modern Day Firsts is a dangerous and complex place which he must navigate in search of the truth.
The novel looks at how the Latter Day Saints came to be and how polygamy was seen as an instruction from God. Afterall, Abraham takes more than one wife in the bible so why not follow? The novel speaks from both sides of the argument and shows the products of both edges of the sword. A tale of female submission, deception and betrayal as well as the intricate bonds of family and the faith that binds a community. The characters although numerous are totally unforgettable which I can’t help but thinking is partly due to the fact that one side is based on real historical characters. It is like something by Philllpa Gregory crashed together with a modern day murder thriller. Multidimensional, this book has the ability to please every reader in my opinion and if you haven’t read it yet make sure you put it on your resolution list. – Lauren