Saturday, April 04, 2009

Book Review: The Minister's Daughter by Julie Hearn

Book: The Minister's Daughter
Author: Julie Hearn
Published: 2005

Grace and Patience Madden, the ministers' daughters, are acting strange. Always the sweetest and best-behaved girls in the village, they are suddenly confined to their beds, unable to rise, prey to wild fits and visions. All the signs point to one thing--witchcraft. And the witch could only be wild, clever, illegitimate Nell, granddaughter to the village healer, heir to all her outlandish knowledge.

But there are things nobody knows about Grace Madden except for Nell. Like the identity of the boy Grace has been sneaking out at night to see. Like Grace's secretive visit to Nell's house. Like the due date.

As the old pagan ways of Nell and her grandmother clash with the new Puritan views of the Madden family, dragging the whole village in after them, one thing comes clear--nobody can come out the winner.

Nell's fate has more than a whiff of deus ex machina (really, Julie Hearn? That guy? Really??) but what made this novel memorable for me was the portrayal of the traps that hold both Grace and Nell. In different ways, both girls are bound up in the social norms for girls of their time. The difference is that Grace will do anything to fit them, and Nell chooses the more difficult route of being herself.

As for Patience--when I was done, I Twittered, "Bitch crazy." While she never plays an active part in the main narrative, her confession years later adds dimensions to the story being played out. The force of her rage and resentment nearly fifty years later permeates her "confession," as well as a self-portrayal as an innocent victim that the main storyline casts into doubt.

The Minister's Daughter is a fascinating novel about the petty, human side of a dark time for anyone who was different.

Interesting note: In the original UK edition, the title was The Merrybegot. I have to say I'm behind the switch. While Nell is the character that everything happens to, it's Grace who's the driving force.


Lenore Appelhans said...

This sounds like something I'd like!

Kate Kae said...

I listened to this book on audio and loved it--very creative with lyrical prose. I do disagree about the title, since Nell was such a vital main character, I would have preferred the English option of "The Merrybegot".

Currently I'm reading Hearn's earlier book "Sign of the Raven" and while interesting, it doesn't seem to have the same strength as her newer release.