The Last Runaway
I love Tracy Chevalier. She is one of my favourite authors given her strong female protagonists and historical settings, so whenever she publishes a new book it goes straight onto my reading list. I first got hooked along with many people by the excellent Girl with a Pearl Earring which also started a serious passion for Vermeer (and I’m still on a mission to see every Vermeer that exists, though I still have some travelling to do to achieve it). I then went back to read The Virgin Blue (an excellent story of two women linked in history – I like this kind of thing as my blog on reading Kate Mosse describes) and have since read Falling Angels (a beautiful book where you learn a lot about Victorian attitudes to death and about the Suffragette movement – and if you haven’t ever visited Highgate Cemetery in London you really should), The Lady and the Unicorn (set in medieval France), Burning Bright (featuring Georgian London and William Blake) and Remarkable Creatures (about a fossil collector in the early nineteenth centruy).
The Last Runaway is her latest – and the reviews are right, it’s great and it’s one of her very best. It’s the tale of a homesick young Quaker girl making her way alone in the world in the brave new world of America in the 1850s. What’s so great about it is the writing, which completely brings to life the places, the people, the unsettling changes of the age and the dislocation of coming from a world of such settled tradition to one where everyone is rushing to be somewhere else. But in addition to all that it’s also a fascinating take on the Underground Railroad, which I first heard about when I lived in Buffalo in New York State on the Canadian border back in 1999. It’s excellent at showing the dilemmas and risks that all those involved faced. And the final reason I loved it – the smell of freshly baked cord bread rises from every page. So much so, I was taken right back to farmer’s markets in the Fall, untreated apple ‘cider’, squashes of every variety, pumpkin pie and of course corn bread. So I googled the recipe, bought the ingredients and I’m off to make some.