Thursday, April 7, 2011
The Linnet Bird by Linda Holeman
Born into poverty in 1820's Liverpool, Linny Gow escapes the life of prostitution her stepfather has forced her into, learns how to be a young lady, and flees to India, where the British Raj is in its infancy. There she finds heartache and suffering, but also true love and freedom.
I had this book recommended to me and lent to me by someone who saw me reading the Outlander by Diana Gabaldon series. Although I don't really see the connection (other than the fact that they are both in the past, and in Eurasia [hate that term-it sounds like a venereal disease]), the book was amazing none the less.
I knew going into the book that it was going to be very dark, which I think is something important to understand, because this type of book is not for everyone. It's that type of book that kind of just has to be good, based on how extremely depressing it is, if that makes sense to anyone. Having said that, it is very sad and there aren't very many triumphs for our heroine Linny, but that just strengthens the ones that we do see.
The writing was phenomenal, and it's one of those rare books that, after reading a book after it, solidified its greatness. I don't know if anyone else has experienced this, but when a book is just so good, the book that you read after always seems awful, simply because it cannot possibly live up to the complexity of the first book. This is exactly what happened for me (as you can see if you read the review following this one).
Overall, if you can't tell already, this book was pretty darn amazing, and I recommend it to anyone who has the stomach for extremely depressing content. This book may not be the happiest one, but I definitely think that the heroine prevailed and demonstrated exactly what was needed, just not in an obvious way; which is the best kind.
Spoiler Alert: Don't read past this point if you don't want to know specific book details!
The book starts out with us gaining a little bit of information about Linny, set after the beginning of her story. I thought this was a wonderful little tidbit that served as a nice reference point, a little bit of foreshadowing, and something to give us just enough hope throughout the heavy content that is to come. Linny has a son in this prologue, and is also smoking opium, but swears it is her last time; just enough to steady her head and mind enough to tell her son (and us) her story.
Then we are introduced to a very strikingly innocent Linny, right on the precipice of darkness. Her mother has been dead for about a year, and her step-dad has decided to pimp her out to the highest bidder (while he simultaneously watches and jacks himself off-so incredibly disturbing, I know), which only commences Linny's career as child prostitute. Although this is so extremely sad and heartbreaking, we also learn about how nice Linny's mother was and all of the big dreams she has for Linny. Linny never seems to forget these, even through the darkest of the dark, Linny seems to keep a tiny fibre that she can pull back when she needs it most, to renew her faith, hope, and expectations of herself, which I believe to be Linny's only salvation.
The book goes on to show the hardships that Linny faces: nearly dying when her father takes her to an insane syphilis-stricken man with the promise of improving her 'job'; enduring years and years of living in a brothel and selling her body on the streets of dirty Liverpool's Paradise Street; losing the baby that she so coveted on the same night that all of her life savings (and her dreams) are savagely stolen from her. When Linny meets Shaker Smallpiece, it seems like her luck has turned around, but it is all too clear that it is too good to be true. Linny is so depressingly broken, that she cannot even find peace and solace in what is really good. There is a man that she wants badly to love, but the only thing she has ever known in men is hurt, rape, betrayal, and violence.
So off Linny goes to India with her seemingly adventurous only-friend Faith, under the guise of Linny Smallpiece, modest socialite, with big dreams of escape and fulfillment. All the Linny gets though, is more repression, restraint and subservience from Faith, after she is very much sobered from the 4 month trip to Calcutta, and the fervent search for a husband before she is seen socially as a spinster. Linny persues the satisfactory social season, despite still hating men, and simply yearning to be able to escape the English prison that has followed her to India. During this time, Linny meets a man that seems like more than the dry, submissive men and women who inhabite the English dominated section of Calcutta that she is restricted to. She soon finds out that she has mistaken the mystery and rebellion for malicious and broken Sommers Ingram. He seems to know that Linny is not all that she claims, and is outed himself as being an imposter, when Linny stumbles upon him shamelessly raping one of the Indian servant boys. Sommers convinces Linny that the only reasonable explanation is for them to marry, for Linny obviously has no interest in the other men, nor Sommers the women, and he needs to marry to fulfill his dead father's will, in order for him to inherit his fortune.
Linny is then promoted to colonial wife, where she is repressed even more, and watches as Faith slowly falls more and more into herself, becoming a shell, when she marries a half-caste (a man who is half Indian) and is shamefully ousted by everyone, including her family. Linny is so controlled by Sommers, and isn't even allowed to see Faith anymore. She helplessly tries to rebel but is literally and figuratively beaten into submission by Sommers and the other social wives living in India.
Linny finally seeks salvation, when her and Faith are allowed to travel North for the hot season in Calcutta. It's not long into the journey that Faith divulges the secret that she is carrying her half-caste husband's child, but is afraid of the consequences of bringing a dark skinned baby into the world. It's not long after this that Faith ends her life by freefalling over a cliff while her and Linny are picnicing. This is ironically when Linny gets her first glimpse of freedom, ironically after being captured by the dark, handsome and mysterious Pathan man, Daoud.
Linny is swiftly transported to Daoud's camp and experiences a new yet phenomenal feeling: desire. However short lived and lacklustre the romance seemed between Linny and Daoud, it was emotionally amazing to see Linny finally become un-broken, and experience a small respite. Linny is promptly returned to her violent husband, but not empty-handed: Linny is pregnant, and renewed in her sense of life, probably for the first time. We finally see Linny living in colour instead of the shades of grey thus far in her life. She is forced to invoke the rape of Sommers, to ensure that he thinks the pregnancy is his, but Linny is now so affected and emotional now that she knows the real meaning of sex and desire and love. She cries often, because her humanity is seemingly reinvoked upon her.
The end of the book may seem pretty anticlimactic to those not able to grasp the true meaning, but I found it quite simply perfection. Linny ends up killing Sommers when he has a bad bout of Malasia, and after he promises to take her child away and send her to an insane asylum. She returns to England to live with Shaker and his new wife, which may seem just O.K., but for Linny, I just know that this means the world. She is finally free, and lives with the constant reminder of her reason for living and surviving, her son. She may never see Daoud again, the only man she has ever shared herself with completely, but it is understood that the option for love and companionship is open to her now, if she chooses to pursue it or not. She is complete in her life, and is finally proud to sport the name Linny Gow.
Overall, a great read, and one that I think can be interpreted in many ways and molded appropriately to the reader and their own darkness echoed in their lives, whether it be as extreme or not. If you have read this book, and have some other info to add, don't hesitate, as I feel this book NEEDS to be discussed in it's totality and glorious perfection.
Longing for more like this--Cheers & Enjoy♥