Book Review: The Last Runaway by Tracey Chevalier

lastrunawayThe Last Runaway by Tracey Chevalier

The stunning new novel from the bestselling author of Girl with a Pearl Earring. Honor Bright is a sheltered Quaker who has rarely ventured out of 1850s Dorset when she impulsively emigrates to America. Opposed to the slavery that defines and divides the country, she finds her principles tested to the limit when a runaway slave appears at the farm of her new family. In this tough, unsentimental place, where whisky bottles sit alongside quilts, Honor befriends two spirited women who will teach her how to turn ideas into actions

You cant fault Chevalier for her research whilst writing a book – this has Quakers 1850s America, the Slave trade, bounty hunters, and quilting all wrapped into a plausable story about an Englishwoman coming to America and being tested over principals, marriage, slavery and what humans are prepared to do to each other.

Chevalier manages to find different ways in progressing the story without bogging herself or the reader in too much detail (changing between a straight narriative and Honor’s side of the letters to the people back home, and back), allowing for whole periods to pass in a few pages.

Not sure the relationship between Honor and Jack quite works – she’s a Quaker who gets married after a quicky fumble in the corn field. She didnt seem to expect anything different, despite having no passion for Jack (unlike what she feels for the dangerous Bounty hunter Donovan) and seems to feel no regret for doing the dirty without even a hint of a promise.

There’s enough detail in the Quilting to keep casual quilters happy, though I’m sure that the more adept quilters would like to try and find fault.  Some reviewers complain about there not being more information about the Underground Railroad, and whilst there wasnt much, I think it was appropriate – after all this is a foreigner who stumbles across the situation rather than being sought out to be actively involved – and I know that for safety’s sake most people would only know about the stop either side of them, in order to reduce others being caught out.  These were difficult times for all, so that most people (especially the free black people) weren’t suddenly going to share their secrets with women who they barely knew.

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