Sunday 8 January 2017

The Second Mrs Hockaday by Susan Rivers

I really enjoyed this book, and I know it seems as if I say that a lot, but it had a certain je ne sais quoi. In my defence I do have a nose for picking good reads and in general authors seem to have upped the ante just a wee bit.

Placidia, also known as Dia throughout the book, is the main character and the entire story evolves around a traumatic event that happens to her. Rivers has actually based the story on a true event, which took place during the same era. The birth, death and burial of a baby born to a woman of good social standing, during a time when her husband was at war. He was also at war during the conception of said child, hence his automatic response on his return being a trip to the local magistrate to report his wife. She was arrested and put on trial.

Rivers has taken that particular moment in time and turned it into a wonderful and captivating read.

Often when authors use correspondence to move a story along it doesn't work. In this case it is exactly the right way to have the characters interact, despite not being in the same vicinity of one another.

The only negative for me was when the story and correspondence leapt nearly 30 years ahead. I had to go back and re-read more than once to understand why there was a jump from Dia to a new character. It wasn't until I looked closer at the dates on the letters or correspondence that I noticed the huge leap in the dates.

I enjoyed the way the author kept the tone and voice of the story entirely as era accurate as possible. Of course that includes slavery and the treatment of men, women and children who fell into those brackets. For example there is a sexual assault at the very beginning, which is merely noted as a small incident due to the dirt on the knees of the white man in question. No outrage, no mention, just an overall acceptance of this tragic status quo. Throughout the story this treatment of slaves as chattel or animals is noted merely as normal and part of society.

In a really subtle way Rivers points out both the parallels and the paradox between the treatment of slaves and white women when it came to being treated as a sub-species in the eyes of white men. This includes domestic abuse and sexual violence. It's rather ironic that white women, and indeed even Dia, do not recognise the similarities between all of them.

The reality and horror of war is woven into the fabric of the story and the steady but achingly slow advancement of civil rights, all while this personal family drama and heartache plays out. As I said I really enjoyed the read.

Buy The Second Mrs Hockaday at Amazon UK or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

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