Miss Appleby's Academy by Elizabeth Gill

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Miss Appleby's Academy by Elizabeth Gill

Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Louise Jones
Reviewed by Louise Jones
Summary: A middle-aged woman tries to start a new life in England, but finds it harder than she imagined to find acceptance in her new home.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 400 Date: January 2013
Publisher: Quercus
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781780878478

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After forsaking her own chance of happiness to care for her aging father, Emma Appleby’s life is thrown into turmoil when he dies suddenly, leaving her fate entirely in the hands of her callous brother Laurence. Laurence and his wife view the middle-aged spinster as a burden and are keen to marry her off to an elderly neighbour to free themselves of responsibility. With seemingly nowhere to turn, Emma flees America to make a new life for herself in her childhood home of County Durham.

Life in the Northern mining town is far from idyllic and the suspicious townsfolk shun the outsider, suspecting her to be a whore. Emma is given a lifeline by charitable publican Mick Castle, but he has problems of his own; an alcoholic young wife and a wayward daughter who keeps running away.

From the picture on the cover and book description, I thought that Miss Appleby’s Academy was a story about a woman starting a school in a village. Unfortunately, the school is only a minor plot element, with the majority of the book dedicated to the relative struggles of Emma and Mick. The narrative limps from one tragedy to the next, with very little respite for the reader. Events are set against the bleak backdrop of an unwelcoming mining town, full of hostile citizens, which makes for quite depressing reading.

A big problem for me as a reader was that I found it hard to feel empathy for the main characters. Emma, the female protagonist relies heavily on the charity of others and even resorts to stealing from her family to fulfil her ambitions. In short, she came across as a bit of a scrounger! I also found her actions quite hypocritical; at one point in the book she reels condescendingly at the immoral behaviour of a family member and yet a few chapters on, goes on to do the same thing herself. The romantic scenes felt awkward and unconvincing and the ending of the story was abrupt and anticlimactic.

That said, there were elements of the story that were very well done. The scenes where Mick is desperately trying to nurse his alcoholic wife are both moving and beautifully written. I also liked the fact that the author has chosen a dowdy, middle-aged spinster as the heroine of the novel. It made a welcome break from the glut of impossibly beautiful young female heroines in literature!

Miss Appleby’s Academy is an engaging story, but could do with a few lighter moments to break the oppressive mood of the narrative. I would have liked the book to have concentrated more on the school itself as I felt that the cover art and the title of the book gave a misleading impression of the main storyline.

An Atlas of Impossible Longing by Anuradha Roy has similar themes to this book.

Buy Miss Appleby's Academy by Elizabeth Gill at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Miss Appleby's Academy by Elizabeth Gill at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Miss Appleby's Academy by Elizabeth Gill at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Miss Appleby's Academy by Elizabeth Gill at Amazon.com.


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