The Last Runaway and Why I almost Lost Hope in Chevalier’s Writing

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I recently finished reading The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier and I must say, she is back to her old wonderful writing self. Based on that statement, I may need to back up a bit, so here we go. I am one of those people where, once I find an author, I tend to read all their books. I read Chevalier’s debut novel Girl with a Pearl Earring when I was a freshman in high school and loved it. I enjoyed how Chevalier took a famous painting and “made up” a back story around the people involved with the painting, or people who could have been involved. I think very often people become enamored with a painting, but actually know very little of how or why the painting came to be or know very little about the artist. I’ve heard arguments that to truly understand a work, be it literature or art, a person has to know the artist’s personal history. While I do not always think this knowledge requirement is true, other times, such as with James Joyce, I do think knowing about the author makes the work much more understandable. What I mean is the painting Chevalier explores takes the artist and the people in his life into account as to why and what affect the painting has on each of them individually and collectively. It make for an interesting perspective.

Since reading Girl with a Pearl Earring, I have purchased and quickly read all of Chevalier’s novels; I believe she has now published 5 including The Last Runaway. Now, the book Chevalier published before The Last Runaway is called Remarkable Creatures (4th book) and I could not for the life of me get through this book. The book was as dull as the topic/interest of the two main characters, fossil hunting. The book moved very slowly, there seemed to be no character development; overall the book seemed very flat. The worst part is the book is short, a mere 200 pages and I honestly think it took me a month to read. Finally, one evening I sat down and made myself finish the book. I was so worried Chevalier had lost her talent for writing or interesting topics. I figured, I guess it is a good thing I have about 100 other authors I enjoy reading.

Then The Last Runaway hit the shelves.

Summary from Barnes and Nobel:

Ohio 1850. For a modest English Quaker(Honor Bright) stranded far from home, life is a trial. Untethered from the moment she leaves England, fleeing personal disappointment, Honor Bright is forced by family tragedy to rely on strangers in an alien, untamed landscape. Drawn into the clandestine activities of the Underground Railroad, a network helping runaway slaves escape to freedom, Honor befriends two exceptional people who embody the startling power of defiance. Eventually she must decide if she too can act on what she believes in, whatever the personal cost. 

I read a summary online and immediately thought, well based on the subject it can’t be any worse than her last book. Thank God this book wasn’t! And I must say, I never thought of how Quakers viewed and interacted with slavery. I do not know why, maybe because in school the issue of slavery was always taught as something between the North and South, no real sub groups. Either way, I love when a book forces one to consider other sides, views, or beliefs.

Side note about this book, I did get very angry at how Honor’s in-laws treated her. I don’t want to give anything away, but Honor’s mother-in-law is one of those hard ass, I’m right and know best bitches, everyone do as I say, and personally, I just don’t get along well with those types of personalities. I did secretly want her to change who her husband is. I know this review is poorly written, but I really don’t want to give anything away so I am trying to write vaguely.

While I want to say much more about this book, I know I will spoil it and that wouldn’t be fun for anyone who wants to read it. This is a really good read and I recommend it, especially if you’re headed on vacation and need a good read for the car, plane, or beach. Happy reading!

Oh, and if anyone has any suggestions for books to read, I’d love to hear them. I’m always looking for just one more book.

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