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I read some short stories by Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923) forty years ago or more, and unfortunately have no real memory of them.
But I had no idea of her life. And what a life and a character!
So I eagerly read Katherine’s Wish, a historical novel focusing on the last five years of her life, when she traveled back and forth between England, France, Italy, and Switzerland, trying to find the best setting and cure for her tuberculosis.
These were five major years for her. Despite her illness, these were her most productive literary years. So it made sense that Linda Lappin focused on that period of her life.
Lappin has a real knack for descriptions, as we can judge right from the opening scene, one example among many, where you can see, hear, smell, and feel as if you were there:
This is definitely one of the strengths of the book.
Another one is for me how the author managed to capture Mansfield’s complexity of character, especially in her ambiguous relationship with Ida. The ambiguity is not about their lesbian relationship, but in the way she treated her.
Sometimes she couldn’t stand how Ida was taking care of her, she felt smothered, yet at the same time she needed her, as a nurse and a secretary, and was extremely demanding of her.
“Ida her jailer, her slave, her shame, and yes, Ida, her sole relief.”
I so enjoyed the fact that the book is really not just about Mansfield.
It’s really a literary portrait of the English literary scene in the late 1910s and early 1920s. You meet here so many important people of the time, like members of the Bloomsbury Group (Virginia Woolf for instance), D.H. Lawrence (and his Knights of Rananim, which I had never heard about. The Rananim Foundation still exists today!), the prolific author and eminent critic John Middleton Murry (whom Katherine married), her publisher Alfred Richard Orage (editor of the famous The New Age magazine), the influential patron of the arts Lady Ottoline Morrell, plus many others, including Francis Carco! As a young child growing up in France, we had to memorize poems by him. I had no idea of his affair with Mansfield.
Linda Lappin shows also Mansfield’s complex relationship with her own illness, both trying to find the best places “to cheat the winter”, to live in the warmth (in Menton for instance, on the French Riviera) and fresh air, though refusing to stay in a sanatorium, where she thought she would not have the leisure to write.
Instead, she followed charlatans (Russian physician Ivan Manoukhin in Paris, for instance) who probably speeded up the disease.
She died in Fontainebleau, France in 1923, where she was staying at G.I. Gurdjieff‘s Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man. I didn’t know about this place, nor about Gurdjieff or his student Pyotr Demianovich Ouspenskii (not to be confused with Leonid Alexandrovich Ouspensky, the famous Orthodox iconographer).
She ended up there after the impact of a book on her life, Cosmic Anatomy and the Structure of the Ego (1921).
If it didn’t cure her, at least it seems it opened her to a deeper meaning of life and spirit before her final days. She was 34.
I like the ending Linda Lappin chose, not mentioning Katherine Mansfield’s death explicitly, but focusing instead on the inner enrichment she may have experienced at the end of her life.
She has left us journals and numerous letters, so I assume the author drew a lot of her ideas from there.
I definitely want to try again some of Mansfield’s short stories.
Though as a person, I really didn’t like her at all. You can really see she was born in a socially prominent family (in New Zealand) and how she felt entitled, buying “extravagances she could not resist”, “the many luxuries she could not do without”, demanding special food and flowers, in a time still suffering from the War, and always trying to get money from friends and family members.
But she also worked hard (as a reviewer and editor) to try to earn money to survive here and there. No doubt her illness didn’t improve her character –she’s even described as “a tiger”!
Maybe the wish in the title is too gentle and the word ‘demand’ should have been used instead.
VERDICT: Fascinating portrait of Katherine Mansfield and her literary milieu. Anyone interested in this influential author needs to read this novel!
In this dramatic, fictional retelling of New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield‘s final years, and of the events which led up to her meeting with P.D. Ouspensky and G. I Gurdjieff, novelist Linda Lappin transports the reader like a time traveler into Mansfield’s intimate world.
Scrupulously researched and richly evocative, the novel has been praised by Mansfield scholars as “creative scholarship.”
With vivid detail and beautiful language and style, Lappin has built on journals, letters, and diaries to fashion a true-to-life mosaic, using themes, motifs, and methods of Mansfield’s own writing.
Katherine’s Wish celebrates Mansfield’s deep love of life and its final message is a life-affirming one of joy and of wholeness achieved.
Finalist, ForeWord Book of the Year Award in fiction,
IPPY Gold medal in historical fiction,
honorable mention Hoffer Awards, honorable mention Paris Book Festival,
finalist Next Generation Indie Awards.
A radio play adaptation of Katherine’s Wish is forthcoming.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Linda Lappin has published four novels:
The Etruscan (Wynkin de Worde, 2004);
Katherine’s Wish, dealing with the life of Katherine Mansfield (Wordcraft, 2008),
shortlisted for Foreward Book of the Year
and IPPY gold medal winner in historical fiction;
Signatures in Stone: A Bomarzo Mystery, winner of the Daphne DuMaurier Award
from RWA for the best mystery novel of 2013;
and Loving Modigliani: The Afterlife of Jeanne Hébuterne.
She is also the author of The Soul of Place: Ideas and Exercises for Conjuring the Genius Loci,
winner in 2015 of the gold medal in creativity in the Nautilus Book Awards.
She lives in Rome.
HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK?
What’s your favorite book/story by Katherine Mansfield?
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The book is actually available until end of December, despite the date on the banner!
In full compliance with FTC Guidelines, I received this ebook free of charge to review.
I was in no way compensated for this post as a reviewer, and the thoughts are my own.