Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A White Room - Stephanie Carroll

A White Room


GoodreadsAt the close of the Victorian Era, society still expected middle-class women to be “the angels of the house,” even as a select few strived to become something more. In this time of change, Emeline Evans dreamed of becoming a nurse. But when her father dies unexpectedly, Emeline sacrifices her ambitions and rescues her family from destitution by marrying John Dorr, a reserved lawyer who can provide for her family.

John moves Emeline to the remote Missouri town of Labellum and into an unusual house where her sorrow and uneasiness edge toward madness. Furniture twists and turns before her eyes, people stare out at her from empty rooms, and the house itself conspires against her. The doctor diagnoses hysteria, but the treatment merely reinforces the house’s grip on her mind.

Emeline only finds solace after pursuing an opportunity to serve the poor as an unlicensed nurse. Yet in order to bring comfort to the needy she must secretly defy her husband, whose employer viciously hunts down and prosecutes unlicensed practitioners. Although women are no longer burned at the stake in 1900, disobedience is a symptom of psychological defect, and hysterical women must be controlled.

A novel of madness and secrets, A White Room presents a fantastical glimpse into the forgotten cult of domesticity, where one’s own home could become a prison and a woman has to be willing to risk everything to be free.


I definitely enjoyed this book, but I think it's one of those books that you are totally absorbed in when you read it...but if you think too hard about certain aspects it requires you to suspend quite a bit of belief in a lot of things.

The pacing in the beginning was sooooo slow!  It was beautifully written (My copy wouldn't allow bookmarks in it or I would have an example quote for you.  Everything is quite descriptive), but it definitely dragged.  Once you get past all the creepy house descriptions though, it's utterly gripping!  The suspense is crazy!!  Whatever complaints I have about the characters being a bit two-dimensional or the weird crazy house stuff, I completely put aside as I got sucked into this story.  I don't want to say too much because a lot of the suspense is built on coming to the book not knowing much more than what is written on the back cover, but trust me.  If you read this and are finding yourself stuck WAIT.  As I said, once you get past the house bits, the story takes you for a rollercoaster ride.  (I'm pretty sure I just made that saying up.  YOU ALL MUST USE IT NOW.)    Beyond the suspense, the plot itself is very interesting.  I know very little about the history of medicine which is a big part of this book and it was fascinating!  Not only in relation to women, but in general.  This is set right around the time that germs were becoming common knowledge.  While there is a big focus on medicine and techniques of the time, it doesn't weigh the story down.  In fact it makes the story even more interesting. 

Unfortunately, a book can't thrive on plot and suspense alone.  While I feel like Emeline was very well written, I didn't get a good feel for any of the other characters.  The villains are villainish, and the good guys are...sometimes villainish.   It adds to the suspense that you don't know who's on Emeline's side, but I feel like character development was sacrificed for this (and we all know characters are #1 for me, so this might not bother most other people).  I was especially unconvinced by the romance and the ending seemed rather too convenient.  But that being said, I am glad it ended the way it did.

In a few ways this reminds me of a historical fiction adult version of the Mara Dyer series.  If you're at all interested in any combination of those things, I'd check this out.  Part of this is how well the suspense is played out (and we all know that the suspense in Mara Dyer about did me in it was so crazy).  Another part of this was Emeline's madness.  I personally didn't really understand why she was seeing things really, but it adds to the suspense as I wasn't sure if she really was crazy.  (Starting to sound familiar?)

 But on to the parts of the story that I loved and have very little to do with the mechanics of writing.
The subject for this novel is near and dear to my heart.  I see how far we have come (and how far we haven't) as women in society now, compared to a century ago - when midwives considered criminals, hysteria was a diagnosis and had...unpleasant solutions (They thought the uterus wandered into your head!  What?!), when abortion was a crime, when disobedience in a woman was diagnosed as a mental disorder.  Literally.  They could put you in the madhouse if you disobeyed your husband or parents.  No questions asked.  In a lot of ways this paralleled an earlier version of The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, one of my all time favourite books.  I always love books like these because I think more needs to be written about this time period and women's rights (or really women's rights throughout the 20th century).  The awareness needs to be there.  It hasn't been so long since we've had the rights we do now, and it's still a battle.  A lot of people have started to dislike the word feminist and the sort of people it stands for.  You should definitely read that article - it's an interesting look at feminism and what it means to people (and also Joss Whedon).  Feminism for me still stands simply for equal rights between genders.  I think a lot of us take for granted what our predecessors lived through and what they have done to make our life the way it is now.  We shouldn't lay back and think "that's just the way it is" - we have to keep fighting for equality not only in our laws but in the way society views us.  We have to keep improving for all the generations that follow us.


Despite the flaws I listed, I would definitely recommend this book.  It is utterly readable and it accurately (to my knowledge - the book seems well-researched) depicts a time in our history that is extremely important to know as a woman.

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