I will warn you before we begin, this is not a book for the faint hearted. It is, however, a brilliant, painfully emotive evocation of the powerlessness of women in patriarchal societies, and also in a more subtle way the miseries we inflict on those suffering mental illness by not approaching them with due humanity. As such, I strongly recommend it.
As it typical of Sam Youd (writing here as Hilary Ford), the plot is character-driven, fast-paced and gripping from the outset. Our protagonist is a young lady, apparently orphaned, working for a forward-thinking banker in the 1800s. Without great wealth, but with the love-interest of a solid young man named Michael and a steady income, Sarnia is pragmatic and positive. However, when her unknown relatives, the Jelains, turn up on her doorstep determined on reuniting her with her estranged father, she undertakes a trip to Guernsey which will change her life. Youd paints the darkness into this novel slowly, building an increasing sense of doom and captivity until you can hardly breathe.
It’s fantastically written, every character multi-dimensional in the most complete sense of the phrase. They each have personal motives with undercurrents of complex emotional lives. You get the sense of conversations behind the scenes, without them being explicitly stated. Of Sarnia, she is the picture of a sensible, strong woman, but even this does not save her from the events of the book, which are heart-breaking in parts. Sarnia is a real statement that individuality is all too often no match for society’s expectations and pressures.
I strongly believe it is no accident that Youd chose to write with a female pseudonym for this novel. It adds to the undercurrent of feminist support for the work. There is no doubt to me that Sam Youd does an exemplary job of getting himself into the female mindset, on a par with Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha.
A must read for fans of all literature, but expect echoes of the books implications to haunt you for a good while after reading. It’s been a week and I’m still thinking about it!
Sarnia was republished on 9 January 2014 by the SYLE Press and is available both eBook and print editions. Please visit their website for links and for more information about Sam Youd and Hilary Ford.