Saturday 2 November 2019

Book Review: The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams (Historical Fiction)

Title: The Illness Lesson
Author: Clare Beams

Publication Date: 11 February 2020
eBook - PDF
Historical Fiction
ARCvia NetGalley


The year is 1871. In Ashwell, Massachusetts, at the farm of Samuel Hood and his daughter Caroline, a mysterious flock of red birds descends. Samuel, whose fame as a philosopher has waned in recent years, takes the birds' appearance as an omen that the time is ripe for his newest venture. He will start a school for young women, guiding their intellectual development as he has so carefully guided his daughter's. Despite Caroline's misgivings, Samuel's vision--revolutionary, as always; noble, as always; full of holes, as always--takes shape.

It's not long before the students begin to manifest bizarre symptoms. Rashes, fits, headaches, verbal tics, night wanderings. In desperation, the school turns to the ministering of a sinister physician--based on a real historic treatment--just as Caroline's body, too, begins its betrayal. As the girls' conditions worsens, long-buried secrets emerge, and Caroline must confront the all-male, all-knowing authorities around her, the ones who insist the voices of the sufferers are unreliable. In order to save herself, Caroline may have to destroy everything she's ever known. 

The Illness Lesson was a captivating read. The prose was a delight, and its style added to the sense of historical period. The story posed many questions, such as the connection between body and mind and the rights of women over their own bodies. Meanwhile, the arrival of the birds and the part they played created an interesting metaphor. I found myself caught up in the world and the action, always eager to turn the page to see how things would progress. Overall this was both a gripping and a thought-provoking read and definitely a book that will stay in my mind for a long time. A solid 4.5 stars.

I received this book as a free eBook ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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