August 15, 2021
The Giver of Stars
“It was, everyone agreed, fanning themselves outside the store or passing in the shade of the eucalyptus trees, unseasonably warm for September.”
This is how the author, Jojo Moyes, introduces us to Alice, as she joins her husband (Bennett) and father-in-law for a church meeting in Kentucky. She escaped a cloistered lifestyle with her family in England to marry the handsome Bennett Van Cleve, and returned with him to America. She had thought they would be living in the city of Lexington, and yet they travelled onward, to a remote town called Baileyville.
Here, she is at least as restricted as she was at home in England. Their only outings are to church events, and she and Bennett are firmly under the control of the father-in-law in whose house they live.
There’s something very ‘Jane Austen’ about the opening chapters of this book and it doesn’t disappoint. New life is breathed into Alice’s stifled situation when she joins a group of packhorse librarians, delivering books to households in the Kentucky mountains. The difference those books make, the sense of the land and the freedom and the camaraderie of the young women who deliver the books, is joyful and rewarding.
But this is 1937, and there is much to keep Alice under the thumb of the menfolk with whom she lives. They operate a mine that employs many of the men in the area, but also undermines their homes and their health.
The cover includes a quote from ‘The Times’ that this is her best book yet, and I agree. The historical, rural context for the story gives it extra vigour, alongside the weaving in of the stories of several different characters, makes it a step up from her other emotionally hefty novels such as ‘Me Before You.’