Emma Brown by Clare Boylan

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RATING: 3/5

BLURB: “When Charlotte Bronte died in 1855, she had written the first two chapters of a new novel, which introduced a lost girl and signalled the author’s most compelling work since Jane Eyre. Now, almost 150 years later, Clare Boylan has returned to this intriguing beginning and turned it into an astonishing story of mystery, atmosphere and page-turning suspense. The arrival of Conway Fitzgibbon at Fuchsia Lodge with his daughter Matilda is a source of delight to the headmistress, Miss Wilcox. The unsuccessful ladies’ school is eager for new pupils, particularly one so finely dressed and boasting a father who is ‘quite the gentleman’. Bus as Christmas approaches, and Miss Wilcox inquires about arrangements for the holidays, she is in for a shock. Conway Fitzgibbon, like the address he left behind, does not exist…”

REVIEW: A love of Charlotte Bronte compelled me to start this book by Clare Boylan, which aims to complete a long-lost tale that Bronte left behind upon her death. The book often reminded me, in terms of its plotline, of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s ‘A Little Princess’, particularly when the character of Matilda is cast aside and poorly treated upon the school administrators discovering that she is, in fact, an orphan with no way of paying her tuition fees. The story of Matilda – or Emma, as we later come to to know her – is interlinked with the story of Mr Ellin, a local bachelor who forms a fatherly attachment to Matilda upon visiting her at Fuchsia Lodge, and the story of Miss Chalfont, a lonely widow who desperately longs for a child. When Mr Ellin removes Matilda from Fuchsia Lodge and places her in the care of Miss Chalfont, a friendship begins to blossom between the two women that becomes very similar to a mother-daughter relationship, and greatly improves the life of both involved. However, whenever Matilda attempts to remember her life with the fraud who deposited her at Fuchsia Lodge – or, indeed, her life beforehand  – she finds she can remember nothing at all. The pain she feels upon not being able to remember leads Matilda to run away in pursuit of her past, and leads to a number of dark twists and turns in the poorer parts of London that continue to amaze and surprise the reader. We grow extremely attached to Matilda/Emma, but also to the minor characters in the novel like Jenny Drew, the homeless child that Matilda/Emma soon befriends. The tragic unveiling of Matilda/Emma’s is beautifully balanced out by the uplifting nature of the ending, which truly seems to mimic the form of ending favoured by Bronte herself, and is therefore a brilliant tribute.

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