The Last Runaway
There are two things I do with a Tracy Chevalier book: firstly I buy it, I don’t wait for a library copy or download it, I actually pay for it; then, when I’ve skipped easily through the simple yet scintillating prose, I hand it on to my mum and nan. Three generations reading a book – well done, Tracy.
Chevalier’s topics are political and social. They sit specifically within her chosen period. However, away from the bonnets and wagons these are issues which resonate with us; issues we are still experiencing in society in a direct and intensely personal way or generally, surreptitiously influencing our lives.
The Last Runaway follows an introvert, yet adventurous, Quaker girl. Honor Bright accompanies her sister to America. Leaving 1850’s Dorset and her close knit community for a forward thinking, transient and comparatively newly-born towns Orberlain and Faithwell. An arduous sea journey means Honor will never return, therefore forcing her to make America home.
Her struggles with personal tragedy and living in a different culture are underlying during her dealings with slavery. Quakers, according to Chevalier, were “Instrumental to the growth of both abolitionism and the Underground Railroad” and “opposed slavery in principle” (P384). However, as Honor finds, living her daily life with these principles amongst slave hunters and laws penalising those who help slaves, it is not so easy. The Quakers, seemingly united, all have varying opinions and many follow the law and leave their principles to one side when it comes to slavery. It is this tucking away of principles that Honor struggles to cope with.
The book is an easy flowing read with a fast pace and simple prose. Chevalier covers a distressing topic with her typically extensive historical research and offers it to us through a young, innocent girl’s eyes. The book is about struggle, both personally and on a wider scale, yet it retains lightness. As usual, when you finish a Chevalier novel you feel as if you’ve glided through it and yet have learnt something new. I think she’s sneakily trying to educate us.
One of the main things I like about her books is they have a creative feel. One is about painting, another tapestry and this one, quilting. Whatever the underlying thread she weaves it beautifully through the story.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It hasn’t surpassed The Lady and the Unicorn or The Girl With the Pearl Earring, but for me it’s on a par with Remarkable Creatures: fascinating and enjoyable. I’m waiting in anticipation to see what captivates her imagination next.