Precept: A Novel by Matthew de Lacey Davidson
|Precept: A Novel by Matthew de Lacey Davidson|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: Fascinating historical novel focusing on the time black American abolitionist Frederick Douglass spent in Ireland, just as the potato famine, or Great Hunger, was beginning. A moving story, elegantly written.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 146||Date: March 2018|
|Publisher: First Edition Design Publishing|
Nathan Whyte is tremendously excited about the arrival of Frederick Douglass in Ireland. And even more excited that his Quaker father, who is publishing the British edition of Narrative, Douglass's memoir of his life as a slave, will be accompanying the famous black American abolitionist on his speaking tour. Nathan is deeply impressed by Douglass, who is a charismatic figure and a gifted orator. But Ireland will have as big an impact on Frederick Douglass as Frederick Douglass will have on it. We watch him through Nathan's eyes as he sees for himself the beginnings of the horrors of the potato famine and meets and befriends the famous Irish nationalist, Daniel O'Connell.
And, as much as Douglass's, as much as O'Connell's, Nathan's life will be profoundly affected by what he learns over the course of this speaking tour...
Precept is a short novel but it has a big impact. It doesn't hold back on the brutal truths of chattel slavery in the United States nor of the privation in Ireland during the Great Hunger. In 1860, there were almost 4 million slaves in the United States subject to all types of cruel and inhumane treatment. During the potato famine, a million Irish people died and another million emigrated. Precept uses the fiery oratory Douglass was known for to illustrate the evils of human bondage, and a visit to a famine-struck town to describe the fever and starvation English policies had imposed on Irish people. None of it is pleasant to read but we see it through the eyes of a young boy in a formative period of his life. Young Nathan, as a narrator, is like a sponge; soaking up information given to him by people he admires - Douglass, his father - and observes and learns. It is up to the reader of Precept to do the judging. And judge you will.
The language is clear and precise and the dialogue is careful to avoid anachronism. As a reading experience, Precept is engaging, flowing and satisfying. It's carefully researched and historically accurate but is not dry at all - personalities rise from the pages with vivid energy. Despite some of the more difficult scenes, I enjoyed reading this book.
Without wishing to give too much away, the closing chapters are a surprise and I didn't see them coming at all. I finished the book with a rather unexpected regard for young Nathan, as well as the regard I expected to feel for those firebrands from history, Frederick Douglass and Daniel O'Connell. But that's all I'm saying about that! Read Precept for yourself if I have made you curious - with any luck, I have.
Precept is an important and often moving story, elegantly written. And a worthy debut novel from Matthew de Lacey Davidson.
TransAtlantic by Colum McCann also looks at the time Frederick Douglass spent in Ireland. The Famine Plot: England's Role in Ireland's Greatest Tragedy by Tim Pat Coogan is an unflinching non-fiction account of the Great Hunger.
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