Book Review: Local Customs by Audrey Thomas
by Audrey Thomas
Dundurn Press, 2014
Local Customs features an enigmatic historical event, intriguing characters and two noteworthy geographical locations. With bones like that a story needs only quality writing to flesh it out and breathe life into it, and Audrey Thomas certainly provides that.
“It is worthwhile having an adventure, if only for the sake of talking about it afterwards.”
This novel, based on the historical figures of George Maclean and Letitia (L.E.L.) Landon, tells of the adventures of British administrators and missionaries living in the Cape Coast Castle on the Gold Coast in the early 19th Century. Landon, a widely read poet of the day, marries Maclean and leaves London to accompany him to his African post.
Thomas re-creates Victorian London and the moist tropical Gold Coast with clarity. Landon and Maclean lived in Africa at a time just after legal slavery ended but when racism and exploitation of African citizens was still rampant and accepted, when missionaries offered “Christianity the way the serpent offered the apple,” and words like picaninny did not turn heads.
Each character takes his or her turn relating the events leading up to a mysterious death. The cause of death was never resolved in real life, and Thomas doesn’t resolve it for us in this novel either. She hints, and she steers us in certain directions, but she leaves some questions intriguingly unanswered, so the results are not conclusive. Rather than being unsatisfying, this leaves delicious room for readers to imagine and suppose.
The different perspectives give the story rich layers. Readers have plenty to ponder because Thomas warns us to be wary about what we believe. The poetic character, Landon, admits to “doctoring” her letters and building up her husband in the eyes of her family. From this we can conclude that she also might not be completely truthful about her relationship with other men in her life.
One character we don’t hear from directly is one who might have much to tell. Ekosua, the African mistress of George Maclean, plays a role in the story, but we don’t hear from her what it is. Again, this leaves delicious room to speculate and suppose.
Posted on April 30, 2014, in Book Club, Book reviews, Books for the beach, Books I borrowed, Dundurn Press, Fiction, Historical Fiction and tagged Africa. George Maclean, Audrey Thomas, Cape Coast Castle, George Maclean, hydrocyanic acid, Letitia Landon, Local Customs. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.