Sometimes, a novel will surprise you. That in and of itself isn’t really a surprise. What is a surprise is how the novel surprises you. Do you hate it when you thought you’d love it? Was it not as wonderful as you heard? Or was it better than your friends told you it was?
And, sometimes, the surprise is that it’s so much more than you ever anticipated.
When I requested an ARC of Miranda Emerson’s Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars, about 85% of the thought process that went into that decision was based on the over. I mean, look at it – it’s lovely!
The other 15% percent was the synopsis – it seemed like it’d be a fun romp. I only expected what I was promised – a group of people, lead by the titular Anna Treadway traipsing around London, investigating the disappearance of an actress, Iolanthe Green, who may or may not wish to be found. What I found within the pages was much more than this.
This is a novel that sparks more introspection than you would ever, ever think. It’s fun, of course, but it’s also very earnest and drives you to consider self-image, the you the world sees, the you that exists and the little ways in which you alter yourself to fit more easily into your society. It asks you to consider how the fractures in those aspects of yourself can spill forth with more than you can ever try to hold back.
The characters we follow closely – Anna, Iolanthe, Hayes, Aloysius – as well as those we encounter in brief glimpses – Samaira, Nathaniel, Ottmar, Orla – are all caught between what and who they are, the way they are seen and how those intersections have impacted the actions of their lives.
While reading, I felt closest to Aloysius, a black man who’s moved to the UK from Jamaica hoping to build the life he wants. I found myself understanding him and his actions completely – his restraint, his quiet resignation. The UK in the 60s isn’t all that far from the US in the 00s and I found my own thoughts in his, spilling out from the pages.
“Aloysuis had never felt more profoundly unconnected to the person he appeared to be. He realized now that the man he had become in his head was far whiter and more handsome than the outer Aloysius.”
I’ve had the same realization. It is not a fun realization. It hurts and it stings and makes you just hate everything for a bit.
I won’t go into what happens as this really is a novel where the guessing game is half the fun. But it needs to be said that a book that combines a mystery with meditations on race, self-reflection and how to handle the choices one’s made is a book worth reading.
*Thanks to Edelweiss & HarperCollins for the pleasure of reading this ARC.