Summary and book reviews of The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins

The Confessions of Frannie Langton

by Sara Collins

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins X
The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins
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  • First Published:
    May 2019, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2020, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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About this Book

Book Summary

A servant and former slave is accused of murdering her employer and his wife in this astonishing historical thriller that moves from a Jamaican sugar plantation to the fetid streets of Georgian London.

All of London is abuzz with the scandalous case of Frannie Langton, accused of the brutal double murder of her employers, renowned scientist George Benham and his eccentric French wife, Marguerite. Crowds pack the courtroom, eagerly following every twist, while the newspapers print lurid theories about the killings and the mysterious woman being tried at the Old Bailey.

The testimonies against Frannie are damning. She is a seductress, a witch, a master manipulator, a whore.

But Frannie claims she cannot recall what happened that fateful evening, even if remembering could save her life. She doesn't know how she came to be covered in the victims' blood. But she does have a tale to tell: a story of her childhood on a Jamaican plantation, her apprenticeship under a debauched scientist who stretched all bounds of ethics, and the events that brought her into the Benhams' London home—and into a passionate and forbidden relationship.

Though her testimony may seal her conviction, the truth will unmask the perpetrators of crimes far beyond murder and indict the whole of English society itself.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton is a breathtaking debut: a murder mystery that travels across the Atlantic and through the darkest channels of history. A brilliant, searing depiction of race, class, and oppression that penetrates the skin and sears the soul, it is the story of a woman of her own making in a world that would see her unmade.

The Old Bailey, London, 7 April 1826

I never would have done what they say I've done, to Madame, because I loved her. Yet they say I must be put to death for it, and they want me to confess. But how can I confess what I don't believe I've done?


Chapter One

My trial starts the way my life did: a squall of elbows and shoving and spit. From the prisoners' hold they take me through the gallery, down the stairs and past the table crawling with barristers and clerks. Around me a river of faces in flood, their mutters rising, blending with the lawyers' whispers. A noise that hums with all the spite of bees in a bush. Heads turn as I enter. Every eye a skewer.

I duck my head, peer at my boots, grip my hands to stop their awful trembling. It seems all of London is here, but then murder is the story this city likes best. All of them swollen into the same mood, all of them in a stir about the 'sensation excited by these most ferocious murders'. Those were the words of the Morning Chronicle,...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Why is Frannie taught to read? What makes reading such a powerful skill that it was denied to slaves? Why does Phibbah, a slave like Frannie, plead with Miss-bella not to teach Frannie? How does the ability to read change her?
  2. Consider all the literary allusions throughout the book. What does each work bring to the novel? In what ways might Voltaire's Candide or Mary Shelley's Frankenstein be particularly relevant? Why do you think Moll Flanders is so important to Frannie?
  3. How does Frannie navigate and survive the brutal, oppressive ignorance of slavery? What are the particularly important decisions she is forced to make? How does she bear the extreme anger and grief that result from such oppression?
  4. What explains the base and ...
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  • award image

    Costa Book Awards
    2019

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Historically compelling and urgently relevant, Sara Collins’ debut novel raises important questions about agency and the right to tell one’s own story, particularly when one is young and socially disadvantaged. Collins gives Frannie a strong voice, a witness to the brutalities of power from one who has experienced them first-hand...continued

Full Review (572 words).

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(Reviewed by Norah Piehl).

Media Reviews

NPR
At its worst, Collins' style is hampered by repetition, excess, and meaningless aphorism. At its best, it is full-hearted and visceral...The book's most deeply felt battle is over...Who has knowledge, who keeps it, who spreads it, and who gets the credit. In its best moments, The Confessions of Frannie Langton is less a romance or a mystery than a counter-curse.

O, the Oprah Magazine
Collins’s propulsive spine-tingler uses the conventions of historical fiction but infuses the genre with edgy beauty...In her deft hands, defiant Frannie summons courage and cunning to tell a story of colonialism, racism, and the yearning to connect.

Washington Post
[A] startling, compelling historical debut novel...Collins’s book is a pointed reminder of the harm unleashed on everyone when human beings are given second-class status.

The Guardian
I love this book. Collins hasn’t just written an authentic gothic novel: she rugby tackles the notion of the saintly girl who emerges from suffering rather improved by it. But nor does Collins subscribe to the modern style of the genre, Hill’s soft rustle of old-fashioned garments. She is entirely her own writer. Between her historical research, Frannie’s voice and a plot that never slows to a walk, the novel pulls the gothic into new territory and links it back to its origins.

Booklist
Collins throws various genres into a literary blender to produce a heady, gothic, mad-scientist, bildungsroman, lesbian, feminist portrait of a marriage; slave narrative; and upstairs-downstairs murder-mystery and courtroom-drama smoothie. Fans of any of these elements will be drawn to this absorbing novel of a woman boxed in by geography, chronology, gender, and the color of her skin.

Library Journal
This dark, disquieting story may appeal to historical fiction fans with a penchant for the gothic.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Collins invokes both Voltaire and Defoe here, and she forges an unlikely but sadly harmonic connection with both these enlightenment heroes in her gripping, groundbreaking debut.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Powerful... .both a highly suspenseful murder mystery and a vivid historical novel, but best of all is the depiction of Frannie, a complex and unforgettable protagonist. This is a great book sure to find a wide—and deserved—audience.

Author Blurb Emma Donoghue
By turns lush, gritty, wry, gothic and compulsive, The Confessions of Frannie Langton is a dazzling page-turner. With as much psychological savvy as righteous wrath, Sara Collins twists together the slave narrative, bildungsroman, love story and crime novel to make something new.

Author Blurb Christine Mangan, bestselling author of Tangerine
From the sweltering heat of the West Indies to the rain-slicked cobbles of London, Collins transports her readers to the nineteenth century with an enthralling historical thriller. Frannie Langton is an unforgettable heroine, one who boldly reclaims her narrative within the context of a history that seeks to silence her. The Confessions of Frannie Langton is gorgeous—Gothic writing at its very best.

Author Blurb Lyndsay Faye, internationally bestselling author of Jane Steele and The Gods of Gotham
Destined to become a benchmark for historical fiction, The Confessions of Frannie Langton is at once fiercely raw and remorselessly beautiful...A book to be devoured, marveled at, applauded—and yes, studied, for its ability to turn grim history into a wildly romantic expedition into the darkest corners of the human heart.

Author Blurb Natasha Pulley, author of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street
A spectacular, dark novel, with elements of Jane Eyre and Paradise Lost... Just like all really good Gothic stories, it keeps you balancing right on the edge of not wanting to look, but feeling like you can't look away... An absolute gem that points at you and asks whether it might be a sign of horrifying privilege, to enjoy a genre devoted to the grotesque.

Author Blurb Stef Penney, bestselling author of The Tenderness of Wolves
Sara Collins has created a tough, fiery, vividly alive character. Beautifully written, in crisp and careful prose; but more than that, it comes across as a story that's been waiting to be written for a very long time…[Collins] has picked up the tradition of gothic fiction and made it brand new.

Author Blurb Jessie Greengrass, author of Sight
Frannie's voice is compelling: tender and furious and wholly deserving of attention.

Reader Reviews

Sandi W.

The slave's confession...
Through the written confession of a slave, a maid, we find out whether or not she committed the murder that she is being tried and convicted of. Frannie Langton has been accused of killing the woman she loves - a wealthy woman whose illness puts her ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

19th Century Literary Companions

The Confessions of Frannie Langton

In Sara Collins' historical novel The Confessions of Frannie Langton, the titular protagonist, a slave, tells her master's wife, "Books were my companions…And I am grateful I could learn something, no matter how I came to do so. It was a way to know that lives could change, that they could be filled with adventures. There were times I pretended I was a lady in a novel or a romance myself. It might sound foolish. But it made me feel a part of the world that otherwise I could never belong to." Frannie's narrative is full of fond reminiscences of the books she read, especially those she was introduced to through her relationship with Marguerite. Readers might enjoy seeking out some of these gems of 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century ...

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