Patricia L. (Seward, AK)
Belaboring their lives….
Henry and Rachel by Laurel Saville is a story crafted from letters between the author's great-grandparents and personal family lore. Saville is a good writer, her first pages piqued my interest and I eagerly anticipated the rest of the story. Henry, Rachel, their daughter, son and other characters each weigh in on the intertwining of relationships and their consequences in the couples lives beginning in Jamaica and later in New York. Unfortunately, by mid book the reader has been told the "gory" details and the rest of the book belabors them until the end. Saville states, "Because I could uncover almost no facts about Rachel's history, I eventually realized that the book I would write would have to be a novel." Yet her story doesn't contain the elements that make novels compelling reads. Actual dialog from the letters, spicing up the action and the creation of some political tension would have made Henry and Rachel a better novel and not a slow paced story of characters trying to rationalize their existence.
Annie P. (Murrells Inlet, SC)
Henry and Rachel by Laurel Saville
This is a delightful read! I found myself underlining certain passages and phrases all the way thru the story; Saville has a refreshing store of them! I particularly enjoyed the different points of view. Saville walked very deftly in Henry's sandals, expressing (what I think is) a man's way of thinking about personal issues, the acceptance or non-acceptance of a woman's ideas and ideals. Mr. George could have been more fleshed out, or maybe not - he was not one of the heroes. Vea rang very true; her solemn acquiescence of island life and then doing what she knew was best was touching. Rachel was an enigma. She wouldn't let the world in, created her own sanctuary, but in the end, was - as much as she could allow herself to be - happy.
I felt led down many paths in this novel. But I also felt I had a very good guide in Saville.
Laurette A. (Rome, NY)
Can we ever really know a person?
I started out not liking this book, but pushed on because I didn't want to leave it unfinished...I'm glad I did. Henry and Rachel are, like most people, very complex and Laurel Saville explores this in very distinct and unique "voices" in each chapter. This book caused me to take a fresh look at my own self and rethink what I always thought I knew about my various family members. As one of the characters comments, "if we get our own parents so hopelessly wrong, how can we be sure of what we think we know of ourselves?" Each chapter reveals layers of the characters and at the end of the book we come to understand a little more of what makes them tick and why they acted like they did. I'm glad I read it and I ended up caring about Henry and Rachel and their lives.
Diane S. (Batavia, IL)
Henry and Rachel
I feel that books that are written based on an actual person, in this case the author's family members, are more appealing to me because they are based on reality. In this case I felt the strongest character was the island of Jamaica, the history and the descriptions were wonderful. When I first started reading this book, I enjoyed reading about their lives, together or not, and the children of course. A book told in alternating chapters, Henry's and than Rachel's because a bit tedious so in the second half of the book when additional character's viewpoints were told, it was a very welcome relief. I can't say that I particularly liked any of these characters, though at times I felt sorry and did perhaps understand Rachel and the way she acted much better, than the others.
While I was reading this book, I liked it but when I put it down it never compelled me to pick it back up. So this was a good story, not a very exciting one, though with all the discoveries made about their characters it could have been. Maybe it was meant to follow the languid day to day existence in the Jamaican heat.
Catharine L. (Petoskey, MI)
Slow moving story
It is a story of the relationship between Henry and Rachel told mostly from their viewpoints, and from the perspectives of James, the oldest son, Margaret, the daughter, and family friends.
I thought the story was sad. Rachel takes three of her children to New York City, leaving James, the oldest son, with Henry. She wanted a better education for her children which did not happen. They were very poor. I don't think Rachel was ever happy - she had no relationship with Henry or her children. She preferred being alone.
The best parts of the book were the vivid descriptions of Jamaica and New York City in the mid 1800's. I never really cared about Henry or Rachel and won't miss them when the book is back on the shelf.
Marjorie H. (Woodstock, GA)
Odd people - Odd story
My views of this book are mixed. I didn't care for Henry or Rachel. Henry was just another one of Rachel's children. Rachel's issues were far too complex and left questions about her personality and motives for leaving.
The island (Jamaica?) was a character in itself - breathing life into these relationships. Lush, green and teeming - it added color to this odd group. Otherwise, I believe in another setting, this book could have been a real downer.
I didn't enjoy the first half of the book as much as I enjoyed the last half. Other characters and their motives were revealed with all the sex, betrayal and insanity that went along with it. I understood Mr. and Mrs. George a lot better than I understood Henry and Rachel.
The story seemed disconnected at times - left me with a few "fill-in-the-blank" moments.
I'm sure it will appeal to some people and could be a good book for a discussion group. Personally, I wouldn't recommend it.
Vivian H. (Winchester, VA)
Beautiful Writing ~ Not So Beautiful Story
If the entire book were as beautifully written and engaging as the first few chapters, this would have rated among the best books I have ever read; but, the story did not hold up for me. And ultimately, I ended up flipping through the pages of the second half of the book just to get through it.
This historical novel is based in part upon the stories Laurel Saville heard about her maternal great-grand parents and some family letters. The primary setting is Jamaica in the years just prior to and after WWI, the Jamaica in the waning years of English colonization dominated by class distinction and race discrimination.
The saga of Henry and Rachel is told through the eyes and narratives of those closest to them. Unfortunately, I didn't really like any of the characters. I believe the author wanted the reader to feel compassion or empathy for Rachel. But I found her a distant, bitter woman who made decisions that were unhealthy for her children, which resulted in their being completely dysfunctional.
Laurel Saville's style of writing flows as if written by the loveliest fountain pen of old. In the first chapter in which Henry remarks upon "the inexorable passing of the years that has turned me inexplicably into an old man" touched me in the depths of my soul. I wish I could say I loved the book; but I didn't. It was okay; but it didn't make my heart sing after the 5th chapter.