Here’s the thing about Geraldine Brooks (because I’m totally qualified to comment on Geraldine Brooks, obvs) and Caleb’s Crossing (which, according to many aggrieved Goodreads members, should be called Bethia’s Crossing) –
01. Stating the obvious but she knows how to write historical fiction. I reckon Brooks tests every single word for authenticity – it’s meticulous.
02. Even the emotions her characters are feeling are ‘historically appropriate’ (tricky, right?) and yet, she manages to create these wonderfully strong females who both make a mark on their time and offer something for the present.
Is it ever thus, at the end of things? Does any woman ever count the grains of her harvest and say: Good enough? Or does one always think of what more one might have laid in, had the labor been harder, the ambition more vast, the choices more sage?
03. She’s clearly a research-nut but happily there’s not a hint of info-dumping.
04. She reminds us of the most deplorable parts of history. In this case, I pondered the parallels between Native American and Indigenous Australian history (spoiler: British settlers don’t look good in either version).
…grandfather could hardly have expected the fine points of English property law to count for much to some three thousand people whose reputation, prior to our landing, had been ferocious.
05. She can write about nature and landscape like nobody’s business. Her descriptions of the ‘the island’ (now known as Martha’s Vineyard) are superb.
Those hot, salt-scoured afternoons when the shore curved away in its long glistening arc toward the distant bluffs. The leaf-dappled, loamy mornings in the cool bottoms, where I picked the sky-colored berries…
06. And in writing about the past she is actually telling us about the present (and what a shit-show we’re creating) –
“Can you not hear? Boots, boots, and more boots. The shore groans under the weight, and yet more come. They crush the life from us.” … He had scooped up another handful of sand and stared at each grain as it fell through his fingers. “You are like these. Each a trifling speck. A hundred, many hundreds – what matter? Cast them into the air. You cannot even find them when they land upon the ground. But there are more grains than you can count. There is no end to them. You will pour across this land, and we will be smothered. Your stone walls, your dead trees, the hooves of your strange beasts trampling the clam beds…”
So why did I find Caleb’s Crossing a little bland? A combination of things – there didn’t seem to be stand-out moments in the story; the final ‘reflections’ were lazy; and I never truly warmed to the characters.
2.5/5 Not my favourite Brooks.
I let him eat a slice of treacle pudding and a dish of raspberries.
As part of the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge, I’m comparing the Belfast summer and Melburnian winter. The results for the day I finished this book (July 27): Belfast 11°-17° and Melbourne 4°-15°.