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To some Kate Marsden (1859-1931) was an unsung female pioneer, a nurse who was so committed to eliminating leprosy that she travelled thousands of miles to investigate the disease in Siberia with the support of the Russian royal family. To others she was a fraudster who exaggerated her Siberian undertaking, a woman motivated by fame and a need to atone herself for illicit relations with a woman. This novel sees Marsden at the end of her life, haunted by fragmented memories. For Marsden, memory is “not a neatly packed trunk through which you may sift for items of interest. It is an unravelled ball of wool, tangled and confused.” Marsden’s account of her life here is indeed tangled and complex, poignant and fraught with disappointment. The flower she thinks holds leprosy-curing properties turns out to be “a soothing balm perhaps, but not the miracle I had been led to believe”. And then there’s her all-consuming love for Rose, whom she tries to protect: ”There’s no place in this world for us, you know that. We are judged and found unacceptable.”
Part illuminating ode to an unsung heroine, part thought-provoking exploration of the nature of memory and legacy, this is a unique and captivating novel, and I am grateful to the author for evoking Kate Marsden’s story with such verve and tenderness.
Kate Marsden: nurse, intrepid adventurer, saviour of the lepers… or … devious manipulator, immoral and dishonest?
As she lies on her deathbed visited by the ghosts of her past, who should we believe, Kate or those who accuse her of duplicity?
Memory is a fickle thing: recollections may be frozen in time or distorted by the mirror of wishful thinking. Kate’s own story is one of incredible achievements, illicit love affairs and desperate longing; those of her accusers paint a very different portrait – of a woman determined on fame and fortune.
The reader navigates a narrative as fractured as the Siberian ice Kate crosses in search of a cure for leprosy, and as beautiful as Rose, her lost love, as the full picture of a life lived when women were not expected to break the mould emerges.
Publication date: 11/04/2019
Publisher: Honno Ltd
|Publication date:||11th April 2019|
|Categories:||Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945),|