I’ll be honest. I grabbed this book in desperation before a weekend trip out of town after coming up empty handed with three attempts in the online catalogue. Sort of a last book in the world moment. My library had a Jane Austen themed end cap display and this was one of the books. I’m an Austen fiend, so I thought, what the hell, it’s embarrassing and probably awful, but it’s something for the plane and I at least like the idea of it.
The idea of it is that Elizabeth Bennet says yes to Mr. Darcy when he first proposes, but not because she is in love with him. Could she, then, have fallen in love with him after their marriage?
This Pride and Prejudice variation (as it is styled) gives Austen fans the same misunderstandings, longing looks, hurt feelings, and built-up sexual tension that women of my kind live for. Perfect plane reading.
It’s not a terrible book. It’s not a great book. It’s creative and fun and when it was over I wanted more, as always, of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. I guess that’s the best compliment an Austen fan can give.
Having read The Messenger and enjoyed it, I decided to continue with the second in the series, Gathering Blue. This volume revolves around a young girl, Kira, who was born with a twisted leg that sets her apart from her community. The story begins with her watching her mother’s grave in The Fields while her soul leaves her body. Kira is not welcomed back into her community and is, in fact, confronted by a group of women led by one particularly aggressive woman. The women want Kira’s cott area, the space that was her home, in order to build a pen for their chickens and their ill-behaved children. In this community men hunt and women gather and life is brutal. Kira uses her wits and knowledge of the law to stop the women from stoning her and to force them to take her to the Council of the Guardians, where she is defended by a man named Jamison. Jamison remembers her mother’s skill as a weaver and brings Kira into the council complex, providing her with a stable home, to repair the cloak of the Singer, who sings the history of humanity once a year. Kira, relieved and thankful, is befriended by a carver, Tom, who repairs the Singer’s staff and lives across the hall.
At first grateful for her new home, Kira becomes aware that what seems like a comfortable home may not be all it seems, particularly when the old woman teaching her about dyes dies unexpectedly and Kira begins to question the Council’s intentions.
Like The Messenger, Gathering Blue is a post-apocalyptic story of a community in which one group wields power and lulls the rest of the community into giving up their freedoms and accepting what they’re told through fear and ignorance of the world outside the community. Unlike the community in The Messenger, Gathering Blue‘s community suffers hunger and discrimination and life’s uncertainties.
Like all good novels for adolescent readers, Gathering Blue leaves the future of humanity in the hands of, you know it, adolescents. The choices they make matter. Lowry ends these two novels with endings that leave much to the reader. At the end of this novel, Kira has the chance to leave her community, but must decide between her own welfare and that of the community in making that choice. Perhaps most tellingly for our culture’s gender roles, Lowry’s female protagonist chooses her community whereas the male protagonist of The Messenger chooses himself and the life of the young child he takes with him.
Now I have to read number three just to see what she does with this theme in the bigger picture.