BOOK REVIEW BY SHEREE COMBS ‘Havisham' is a must read to truly understand ‘Great Expectations'

I had the privilege to read “Havisham” by Ronald Frame with a publication date of November 2013.

I loved “Havisham” (a prelude to “Great Expectations”)! I think it is a must read for anyone who will be reading Great Expectations. It explains Catherine Havisham’s earlier life perfectly so you can understand what motives her to continue to wear her wedding dress since the day she was left at the altar and to leave everything as it was that day. It was so helpful to understand Catherine’s life and how unloved she truly felt throughout life and the joy she must have felt when she thought she had truly found true love. Then feeling the devastation she must have felt to be left waiting, everything ready, hours before the ceremony. She could not move forward - she gave up on life - until Estella came into her life and she saw a way to live through her and hopefully change the outcome. Estella also makes a bad decision in love which Catherine can’t change. But even Estella did not love Catherine, even after all the material things she gave her because Catherine did not know how to love or be loved and she will have to live with that realization for the rest of her days.

I think “Havisham” is a must read to truly understand “Great Expectations” and should be read before seeing the upcoming remake of the movie Great Expectations.

I was also given the opportunity to read “The Visonist” by Rachel Urquhart (publication date January 2014). This is a story of a teenage girl whose mother leaves her and her brother to the Shaker community; The City of Hope in Albion, Massachusetts, in the 1840s when a tragedy strikes at home.

Polly, age 15, her brother Ben, age six and their mother, May, have been living on valuable farm land (inherited from May’s father who died under suspicious circumstances), and far from other neighbors, with an abusive, uneducated, alcoholic father/husband. When a stranger questions the father on who stands to inherit the valuable land Polly realizes what her father is thinking and sees the dangers of the family staying with him. In the middle of the night, after her father has fallen into a drunken stupor, she sees the chance for her family to leave, but before she leaves she goes back into the house to retrieve her favorite book and accidently knocks over the oil lamp and catches the house on fire. Later we find out that her father was killed by the fire but Polly believes that she is responsible for the fire and could have possibly killed her father.

Her mother, desperate to finally protect her family takes the children to the Shaker community, The City of Hope, signing away all claims to her children. They must revoke all family ties and become brothers and sisters of the community. The author, Ms. Urquhart, has researched the Shaker community and describes how Polly and her brother are brought into the community. Polly is placed under the tutelage of Sister Charity (with issues of her own). Sister Charity was brought to the City of hope as a infant so has only known the Shaker Community and was raised by Elder Sister Agnes, recently she has developed a rash all over her body which the community assumed is the work of the devil and they shun her. Sister Charity is a zealous in her beliefs and does not turn out to be the true friend Polly will come to think of her.

At Polly’s first Sabbath Day meeting, while the believer are dancing Polly relives the horrors that have happened to her from her father’s hands and cries out in misery but the Shakers look upon it as Polly is a Visionist and has come to teach them all something. She is fearful to tell the truth and she fears that she will be blamed for setting the house on fire and possibly having killed her father.

The man who had asked Polly’s father about the ownership of the land has sent a fire investigator Simon Pryor, to look into matters. Simon has his own issues with his employer and as he becomes more involved in the investigation wants to help Polly and her family which in turn will help himself but he must find them first. There are many people interested in the valuable land and go to whatever means it takes to get the land.

May, who I considered weak initially, turns out to be a shrewd when it comes to her land holdings. I don’t want to tell you the whole plot, because you will want to find out what happens yourself but let me say there were tragic events but in the end there was a future to look forward to.

One member of our library book group suggested that we read “The Golem and the Jinni” by Helene Wecker. It was a thoroughly enjoyable read about a man, Rotfeld, who wanted a wife made for him so he went to a man who liked to dabble in the Kabbalistic arts and for a price asked him to make him a golem, a woman made of clay who comes to life. His specifications for a woman is obedience, curiosity, intelligent, and to be proper. A golem has the strength of a dozen men and will protect her master without thinking.

Rotfeld had the golem made for him and he since he is relocating from Danzig (located on the Baltic Coast in the North of Poland) to New York was told not to bring the golem to life until he was settled in New York. Being impatience he brought the golem to life, and immediately dies of an appendicitis attack.

The golem is now on her own and immediately starts making mistakes. She meets up with a Rabbi in New York, who identifies her as a golem and befriends her. He helps her to get established with her life in New York, introduces her to her future husband and his nephew who doesn’t find out she is a golem until later in their marriage.

Along the way the golem meets the jinni who has recently arrived to New York in a copper oil flask and been released by Arbeely and tinsmith who was cleaning the copper flask. The jinni cannot remember how he came to be in the copper flask and why he has a iron cuff only that a wizard had trapped him. The golem and jinni befriend each other and discover the city of New York together at night. Little do they know that they both share a history with the wizard.

Many things happen to them as they both don’t quite fit in with others around them.

Sheree Combs is a member of the Fleetwood Library Book Club. The club reads different books monthly.

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