The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins tells the story of a Jamaican woman enslaved as a child, exploited by two men and subsequently accused of murder in Georgian London. I am left with the feeling that this debut, though full of lush description and a distinctive heroine, is an ambitious story that would benefit from being given some air to breathe.
Frances Langton, house-slave at Paradise, a Jamaica sugar cane plantation. Frances Langton, housemaid in the home of a London scholar. Frances Langton, the mulatto murderess. Which is the real Frannie? A woman born into slavery in Jamaica then transported to London and gifted to another master, in each place she is studied and manipulated by two men who cannot agree on the pigment of negro skin, the intellectual capacity of blacks and whether they can be educated. There are hints about things that happened to Frannie in her past, things that she did to others – leading I think to the description of the book as ‘gothic’ – some of which are explained by the end, some of which remained vague to me.
This is Frannie’s story, told in her voice, written as she waits in gaol for her trial and written for her lawyer. But we never actually meet this lawyer, he remains a cardboard cut-out so Frannie’s version of the truth remains unverified.We read the sworn testaments of witnesses at her trial, are they the truth or spoken with prejudice and ulterior motives? The book is really two stories – Frannie’s exploitation at Paradise by two men who fancy themselves scientists, and her London lesbian love affair and the murder – that don’t fit together convincingly.
The best thing for me about the book is the character of Frannie, unlike anything I have read recently. The depth of research is evident in the detail but the pacing is unpredictable – Frannie’s voice in the beginning is spellbinding but the middle section is soggy – and I’m intrigued by the scientific exploration of racism. I wanted less of the laudanum addiction and romance between Frannie and her mistress and longed for the trial to be used as the spine on which to hang Frannie’s slave story. A slow read, but definitely an author to watch.
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE CONFESSIONS OF FRANNIE LANGTON by Sara Collins @mrsjaneymac #books https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3Us via @SandraDanby