Published by Viking
Publication date – 4 April 2019
Source – review copy
‘They say I must be put to death for what happened to Madame, and they want me to confess. But how can I confess what I don’t believe I’ve done?’
1826, and all of London is in a frenzy. Crowds gather at the gates of the Old Bailey to watch as Frannie Langton, maid to Mr and Mrs Benham, goes on trial for their murder. The testimonies against her are damning – slave, whore, seductress. And they may be the truth. But they are not the whole truth.
For the first time Frannie must tell her story. It begins with a girl learning to read on a plantation in Jamaica, and it ends in a grand house in London, where a beautiful woman waits to be freed.
But through her fevered confessions, one burning question haunts Frannie Langton: could she have murdered the only person she ever loved?
Frannie Langton, maid to Mr and Mrs Benham, stands accused of their murder. Frannie has one chance to tell her tale, from her birth on a Jamaican plantation to standing in the dock. But did she kill the Benhams?
This is easy to read but isn’t an easy read. The pages fairly turn themselves but the content of those pages makes the blood boil. It was a shameful time in history, and it is easy to be angry here in the present. And though fiction, it is in part based on fact and facts that need to remain in the public consciousness.
The writing is emotive, made more so by the first person narration, which leads the reader to have a more personal relationship with Frannie. Interspersed with Frannie’s narrative are statements from witnesses at her trial and the diary of Mr Benham, adding layers to the story, exposing more of the prejudice and backwards thinking that was prevalent at the time.
The story isn’t linear, it goes backwards and forwards in time, as Frannie reveals more about her life, and the truth behind her work for Mr Langton. Sara Collin’s writing is assured, transporting the reader back to the time just after the abolition of slavery, when the rights of the white man still reigned supreme, despite the law supposedly suggesting otherwise.
Frannie is not easy to like. It is easy to feel sorry for her, angry for her, disgusted on her behalf. But, being a result of her environment, she does not know how to channel her emotions. She lets hers run away with her to the detriment to everything else. But then, there are few characters in this book who do not bring their own fate upon them. For them, it is harder to feel pity.
The ending, when it comes, is as expected from the first page. The fact that it is inevitable does not detract from it, in fact it drives the story.
This is a strong, compelling novel, that will leave the reader with a feeling of unease and sadness. Recommended.
About the author
Sara Collins studied law at the London School of Economics and worked as a lawyer for seventeen years. In 2014 she embarked upon the Creative Writing Masters at Cambridge University, where she won the 2015 Michael Holroyd Prize of Re-creative Writing and was shortlisted for the 2016 Lucy Cavendish Prize for a book inspired by her love of gothic fiction. This turned into her first novel, The Confessions of Frannie Langton.