Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Season of Light - Katharine McMahon

Thomasina 'Asa' Ardleigh is the spirited, abolitionist heroine of this wonderful historical novel. It is 1788 and Asa is in Paris with her newly married sister Philippa. There is talk of change in the air, and there are revolutionary ideas being discussed. Asa has sympathies with the revolutionaries, and is enlivened by the talk around her. 'Yes, this was it. This was being alive; to be amid people who were actually at the heart of tumult and change.' When she meets Didier Paulin, a dazzling man full of ideas for change, she falls in love with him. However, as events in France turn more precarious, the sisters return to England, and Asa goes home to her father. Their home, the Ardleigh estate, is entailed to Harry Shackleford, whom Asa's other sister Georgina sees as an ideal match for Asa. Georgina begins to meddle, and a mysterious French émigrée, Madame de Rusigneux, is employed to instruct Asa in refined ways of behaviour. Asa hears of the events in France and has to decide where her future, and her heart, will lead her. 

The author captures the atmosphere and mood of the period beautifully; I felt like I was walking with Asa through the scarred, troubled streets of Paris when she returns there, and could picture the scenes amongst the angry crowds. The details of the revolution and the mention of real figures from that time are enough for a reader who knows little of the events to understand the times, but the background is never too dense to deter from the storyline. Equally, with echoes of Austen, she conveys through Asa the situation for a young woman in society at that time whose life, however independent a woman they were, depended on making a good match with a man of means;

'The books that Asa had studied with Caroline, her work among the poor, the vigorous walks she had taken on the Downs, above all her precious love affair; all that made up Thomasina was reduced to this muslin-wrapped bag of flesh labelled Miss Ardleigh, available to the highest bidder.'

This is such enjoyable writing, with some wonderful creations, especially Asa and the enigmatic Madame. Georgina is also wonderful as the interfering sister who feigns doing a lot of work and actually does very little other than meddle, and is over dramatic about it all. 'I suppose I shall have to organise everything, as usual. The fact is,' dramatic pause, 'I have invited a surprise visitor to Morton Hall.' In Harry Shackleford we have a kind, generous young man, but who is tainted, in Asa's eyes, by the slavery through which his family have made their fortune. Asa is forward-thinking and has a strong social conscience. It all makes for another really good read by a favourite author of mine, with rich period detail, witty dialogue and a compelling storyline. Reading groups would find much to discuss about the characters, and the historical setting.


Thank you very much to newbooks magazine for sending me a copy of this book to read and review. 

Published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson and available to buy now in hardcover.


  1. This does sound perfect for reading groups, lots of issues to discuss. I've added it to my wishlist.

  2. Glad you got a review copy to read and enjoy - I knew you would like it as much as I did !!!

  3. Sounds like a good read. It seems I'm on an historical fiction track lately.

    1. I am enjoying historical fiction more and more.

  4. This book sounds so good Lindsay! You always have such good taste in books and I can't wait to read your thoughts on The Story of Beautiful Girl and Wonder. All three of these books I'm going to add to my list!

    Megan @ Storybook Love Affair

    1. Thanks Megan that's really kind of you. Hope you enjoy your next read.


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