The Daily Monocle

Critical book reviews from a literary skeptic.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Blindspot by Jane Kamensky and Jill Lapore

Posted by J. P. Wickwire


Pursued by a pair of relentless money lenders, painter Stuart Jameson is forced to leave his native Scotland for the safer shores of Boston. Once there, he quickly sets up a studio and takes Francis Weston—a starving, frightened teenage boy—as his apprentice.

However, Weston isn't all that he seems to be—or, should I say, that she seems to be. Fanny Easton, former belle of Boston society, has fallen hard and fast. After becoming pregnant out of wedlock and losing her baby, she fled from her father's house, and finds herself masquerading as a boy in order to get a position as a painter's apprentice.

Passions flair and tempers fly as Jameson tries to resist his undeniable attraction to his young apprentice, and Fanny struggles to maintain her charade. Add to this a semi-fugitive African scholar, and the political tensions of America in 1764, and you get Jane Kamenksy and Jill Lapore's wonderful novel, The Blindspot.

Told through a series of letters and journal entries, The Blindspot is one of the most well-written historical fiction books I've read in a long time. Some might call the prose 'purple' or 'florid'. However, I found it to imitate the hand of a 1700's scholar, and this only added to the novel's charm.

The cultural details of this book are absolutely exquisite. Each scene is painted with care and detail. I can still see Jameson's painting room in my head—I can hear the sounds and smell the smells. I can picture just about every single thing in this book in vivid detail.

Fanny, Jameson, and most of the other characters are well-written and flawed. For the most part, they express believable feelings, and do believable things. Not predictable, mind you—believable.

However, at other times, they are excessively modern. From the character's motives, to their outlook on life and equality, I was jolted out of the story by the modernity of our protagonists. I don't doubt that people of the 1700's felt the same passions and feelings that we do today, but they weren't expressed in the same manner. The romance also seemed very modern (which is an odd thing to say), and I wish it had been handled more tastefully.

The plot was at times, difficult to follow, I will admit. But it wasn't confusing; merely intrinsic. If I didn't like one character, I could switch my focus to another and follow their thread throughout the story.

The Blindspot will draw you in completely with its complicated plot, wonderfully developed characters and beautiful prose. I've never seen it at a bookstore—I found my copy at a library book sale—but it's definitely worth hunting for. The Blindspot is one historical novel you don't want to miss.

Buy it/Read an Excerpt on Amazon
Author's Website

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