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  • Islands of Mercy

  • Written by: Rose Tremain
  • Narrated by: Katie McGrath
  • Length: 11 hrs and 57 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (5 ratings)

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Islands of Mercy

Written by: Rose Tremain
Narrated by: Katie McGrath
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Publisher's Summary

Brought to you by Penguin.

She was ‘The Angel of the Baths’, the one woman whose touch everybody yearned for. Yet she would do more. She was certain of that.

In the city of Bath, in the year 1865, an extraordinary young woman renowned for her nursing skills is convinced that some other destiny will one day show itself to her. But when she finds herself torn between a dangerous affair with a female lover and the promise of a conventional marriage to an apparently respectable doctor, her desires begin to lead her towards a future she had never imagined. 

Meanwhile, on the wild island of Borneo, an eccentric British ‘rajah’, Sir Ralph Savage, overflowing with philanthropy but compromised by his passions, sees his schemes relentlessly undermined by his own fragility, by man’s innate greed and by the invasive power of the forest itself.   

Jane’s quest for an altered life and Sir Ralph’s endeavours become locked together as the story journeys across the globe - from the confines of an English tearoom to the rainforests of a tropical island via the slums of Dublin and the transgressive fancy-dress boutiques of Paris.

Islands of Mercy is a novel that ignites the senses and is a bold exploration of the human urge to seek places of sanctuary in a pitiless world.

©2020 Rose Tremain (P)2020 Penguin Audio

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

A lovely tableau of life

Islands of Mercy - a book I stumbled upon quite by accident, only because the audiobook is narrated by Katie McGrath (of Merlin and Supergirl fame among many others). I'm glad she did because apparently, I had been living under a rock and Rose Tremain's sunshine had not reached me yet.

The book starts slow at first but is never dull. The author paints a vivid picture of Victorian England and takes her sweet time to establish the characters. Approximately halfway through the book, the story picks up pace remarkably and the readers wait eagerly to know the fate of the people they have come to love or hate so much.

Islands of Mercy has plenty of positive queer representation as well as surprisingly healthy portrayal of polyamory in mid-nineteenth century England. Multiple storylines not only co-exist in different parts of the world at the same time (just as in reality) but it's interesting to watch how they intersect each other in the most unlikely ways. In the end, however, the individual journeys of the characters come together in a beautiful symphony of joy and hope, of heartbreak and acceptance and above all, satisfying closure for the readers.

I love Rose Tremain's women - immensely strong and delicately gentle. Jane Adeane, the Angel of Bath adorns the pages with her height and larger than life persona as does Julietta Sims with "beauties" in her one arm and her son in another. Of course, who can forget Clorinda Morrissey, the fiery Irish entrepreneur who mints her own fortune out of sheer grit and determination? The men appear somewhat clueless and flawed but some of them have more redeeming qualities than others and those darned beyond redemption suffer at their own hands rather than from karma or poetic justice. As one reads the story of their lives, one plunges deep into the nuanced intricacies of their days and nights and of their emotions and interactions. It's a story where nothing immense happens and yet, we live through the day to day occurences in England and Ireland and Borneo as we witness the raw festering wounds inflicted by the colonisers upon the oppressed.

My gripe with this novel, if any at all, would be the initial inertia of the storyline. I understand how and why Tremain took her time to establish her characters - to make the readers care, to bewitch us to laugh and cry alongside them. However, I would totally understand if one grows impatient and abandons this gem during the initial chapters. In fact, I might had done the same, had Katie McGrath's voice not kept me glued.

As lovely as Ms. McGrath's voice is, some of the characters sound vastly different in my head than how she has narrated them in the audiobook but then, that's the beautifully diverse nature of individual imagination.

Literary criticism aside, the omnipresent romanticism of life as painted by the author - be it in a small town English tearoom, the Irish countryside, the posh London society, the art scene of Paris or the majestic forests of Borneo - reminds me that every moment we are living in stories of our own.

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good story

Even though I only bought this because Katie Mcgrath had voiced it, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, getting lost in the story and its interesting characters.

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