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Katherine's Wish by Linda Lappin

Katherine's Wish

by Linda Lappin

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2009 Finalist Foreword Book of the Year in Fiction
2010 Gold Medal IPPY Awards in the Historical fiction category
2011 Honorable mention, fiction Paris Book Festival

"Lappin succeeds where medicine fails in giving Katherine Mansfield ongoing life".... Walter Cummins, The Literary Review, winter 2008

( )
  linda.lappin | Jun 23, 2014 |
Katherine’s Wish is a fictionalized account of the last five years of the writer Katherine Mansfield’s life, from 1918 to 1923, told from the alternating points of view of Mansfield herself; her husband, John Middleton Murry; and her companion, Ida Constance Baker. During that time, Mansfield lived in France, England, Italy and Switzerland, ever in search of a place to both write and recover from the tuberculosis that would eventually kill her.

I found the first part of this book a bit hard to get into. Not only do all three of the main characters come across as unlikeable, but Lappin also seems to be cramming in background information about Mansfield in a way that feels forced, given the structure of the novel. This results in passages like this one:

“Upon her return, [Katherine] would put an end to all that [Murry’s affairs], by marrying Murry, once her divorce from George Bowden came through at last. What a terrible mistake that had been: marrying Bowden on the spur of the moment, simply because he adored her and seemed so well-connected. Of course, that wasn’t the real reason she had let George rush her to the altar. The real reason had been the fatherless child in her womb, Garnet’s child, the baby she had lost later in Bavaria. And that had all been Mother’s fault. She would never have miscarried if Mother hadn’t sent her to that dreadful spa to get her away from Ida” (p. 12).

This feels disjointed and I would imagine very confusing to someone who is unfamiliar with Mansfield’s history.

Luckily, once the stage is set, the narrative focuses on the novel’s present (1918-1923) and flows much more smoothly. Although I’m not familiar enough with Mansfield’s writing to judge whether Lappin was successful in reproducing her style, I certainly felt like I was getting a glimpse into Mansfield’s mind. Above all, Lappin captures Mansfield’s fierce desire to write despite all odds and at whatever cost—these were my favourite parts of the book. Here, for example, are some of (the fictionalized) Mansfield’s thoughts on writing:

“Certainly there was nothing like it: to be divided always into two or more, a multitude of selves. To be the detached observer, sitting in a carriage, driving along the sea, clinging to the cold handle of the carriage door, smelling the tang of salt in the air, and at the very same instant to hang suspended in the silver flash of rain against a smoky sky, to be scattered in the foam blowing along the strand. . . . Passenger and driver, the little boy in a blue cape, nibbling strawberries at the roadside, the high-stepping horse and the roiling sea were all parts of herself” (p. 170).

And here is (the fictionalized) Virginia Woolf describing her journal to Mansfield:

“‘It’s like a madwoman’s dream, or like a deep drawer in an old desk where I collect shreds and scraps of my daily impressions which I later reassemble in obsessive experiments’” (p. 154).

Lappin writes with such compassion for her characters that I soon forgot that I had initially found them unlikeable (with the exception perhaps of Murry). As the end of the novel neared, I found myself almost hoping that it would end differently, that Mansfield would somehow be given more time.

A slightly different version of this review can be found on my blog, she reads and reads. ( )
1 vote avisannschild | Jun 30, 2009 |
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In her new novel, Lappin explores the final years in the life of short-story writer and literary figure, Katherine Mansfield, focusing on her relationships with Ida Baker and John Middleton Murry against the backdrop of her ceaseless journeys and changes of residence.… (more)

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