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Saturday, October 3, 2015

Book Review: Harriet Wolf's Seventh Book of Wonders: A Novel by Julianna Baggott

This is not my usual reading taste but in the end I found it remarkable.
by Julianna Baggott
File Size: 1098 KB
• Print Length: 337 pages
• Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0316375101
• Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (August 18, 2015)
• Sold by: Hachette Book Group
Genre: Women's Fiction
My Rating: 4.5 of 5.0

"A mesmerizing tale of star-crossed love and of the dark secrets in a fracturing family . . . This novel is so full of wonders that it leaves you haunted, amazed, and, like every great read, irrevocably changed."--Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You

The reclusive Harriet Wolf, revered author and family matriarch, has a final confession-a love story. Years after her death, as her family comes together one last time, the mystery of Harriet's life hangs in the balance. Does the truth lie in the rumored final book of the series that made Harriet a world-famous writer, or will her final confession be lost forever?

Harriet Wolf's Seventh Book of Wonders tells the moving story of the unforgettable Wolf women in four distinct voices: the mysterious Harriet, who, until now, has never revealed the secrets of her past; her fiery, overprotective daughter, Eleanor; and her two grown granddaughters--Tilton, the fragile yet exuberant younger sister, who's become a housebound hermit, and Ruth, the older sister, who ran away at sixteen and never looked back. When Eleanor is hospitalized, Ruth decides it's time to do right by a pact she made with Tilton long ago: to return home and save her sister. Meanwhile, Harriet whispers her true life story to the reader. It's a story that spans the entire twentieth century and is filled with mobsters, outcasts, a lonesome lion, and a home for wayward women. It's also a tribute to her lifelong love of the boy she met at the Maryland School for Feeble-minded Children.

Harriet Wolf's Seventh Book of Wonders, Julianna Baggott's most sweeping and mesmerizing novel yet, offers a profound meditation on motherhood and sisterhood, as well as on the central importance of stories. It is a novel that affords its characters that rare chance we all long for--the chance to reimagine the stories of our lives while there's still time.

This is a most unusual book. It starts out with a punch as Harriet announces she was born dead… She then proceeds to explain. Although Harriet is the primary figure, the book weaves in and out of her life and through the lives of her stubborn and controlling daughter, Eleanor, and Eleanor’s two daughters, rebellious, bitter, Ruth and fragile but inquisitive Tilton. Harriet slowly shares her background as a seemingly moronic child placed at the Maryland School for Feeble-minded Children, a specialized school, in the early 1900s. After a number of years it is discovered that Harriet is actually a genius but her father views a genius female child as a waste and leaves her in the school. Harriet meets a young boy at the school and they fall in love.

Harriet’s mother discovers by accident that Harriet is alive and she immediately brings her home from school. Mother and daughter have several wonderful years together, while dad remains late at work and out of the way. Harriet’s live is set in a tail spin when her mother dies and her father returns the senior teen to another facility. Eventually Harriet moves out on her own and establishes a life that ultimately leads to writing a series of six books that reach great popularity and academic acclaim. Everyone was sure there was a seventh book but Eleanor insists she does not have it and keeps her house closed to any fans or inquiries.

The story shifts chapters between the four female characters and the reader gets to see the strengths, weaknesses and the dysfunction of each. Eleanor’s circumstance was impacted by events that led to her husband leaving. Eleanor adopted the attitude: “Human beings are shaped by tragedy and this one’s ours.” Ruth blamed her mother for her father walking out and resented her mother’s focus on her fragile sister. Once she left home Ruth had not expected to return, even to save Tilton as she had once promised. Tilton is a lovely character full of gentleness and joy. It is so sad that she has been completely overprotected by her mother. As the current lives of Eleanor and her girls unfold and head toward collision, Harriet’s tale continues to reveal the great joys and loves of her life. The story and the characters finally “bloomed”.

The writing is smooth with a lyrical tone and some incredible descriptions. The historical elements regarding treatment of the ‘feeble-minded’ are rather fascinating. The difficult and tangled feelings between mothers and daughters is a primary focus of the book.

I am not big into drama and I almost stopped reading this at about a third in. I found it somewhat depressing as well as outright bizarre. I am glad I persevered as the ending made the entire book worthwhile for me! I am sure that readers who enjoy family drama would like the journey better than I did but I am glad that there was light and love revealed at the end. The author states a precept that I have long believed that “joy needs sorrow to understand itself. And sorrow, without joy, has no bearings” (location 707). She also makes a clear point that each individual has a unique life experience that results from their unique way of perceiving (location 2140). My final impression of the total work: remarkable.

This is a book I was invited to read at NetGalley. It qualifies for my NetGalley Challenge.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like an interesting story, I might give it a try. Thanks for giving your thoughts about it.


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