Monday, July 16, 2012

The Weaving Threads of Time

The Devlin Diary
by Christi Phillips

Genre; Historical Fiction/Mystery
Publisher; Simon&Schuster/UK/2009
Pages; 433
ISBN; 9781847373199

Plot; London, 1672; Hannah Devlin is an outlawed woman. Not for having stolen money, not for murdering an innocent and not for committing treason. Hannah practices the art of medicine.

Mrs Devlin and her art may be seen as criminal, but who better than Hannah to call on when one of the King's mistresses falls ill and a doctor is needed. A doctor who relies on discretion as much as a crown with a secret.

Cambridge, 2008; Claire Donovan thought that Andrew Kent had invited her to be a teacher at Trinity College because firstly, he thought she was a talented historian and secondly, because of the romantic history they share. Since arriving in Cambridge, however, Andrew has been cold and has left the unsure Claire to her own devices.

It is only once Claire finds the diary of a 17th Century female doctor named Hannah Devlin, hiding on the dusty back shelves of the antiquarian library, that Andrew's interest is captured. Interest which peaks when a fellow college teacher and celebrated historian is found dead after having seen the diary.

My Thoughts; Mystery, romance, action, comedy, what more could you want. This book is thrilling, funny and totally unputdownable (yes, it is definitely a word!)

As many of my regular readers know, I am a bit of a fan of the juxtaposition of modern and historical, so this title is right up my alley.

Firstly I want to talk about the irony of parallels. One would assume that as the centuries have gone on people have become more aware and attuned to each other feelings and thoughts. But, as Phillips so astutely points out in this novel, we haven't. Claire is as clueless about the wants of Andrew Kent in 2008 as Hannah is clueless about the wants of Edward Strathern in 1672. I love this comparison. As Claire reads Hannah's diary you can see the similarities between the two women, and it makes for a great study.

I also really enjoyed the court of Charles II. What a great time in history to set this story. The thought of women practicing medicine was unheard of until just a few short decades ago, so technically this story could have been set at any point in history, but I am so glad Phillips chose Charles II court. With his long black wig, pointy shoes and powdered face, Charles II was either really stupid or really intelligent and this book lightly delves into that debate, which again makes for a great study.

The roles and position of women play an important part in this story. Hannah faced the troubles of being a woman in a man's profession, while Claire faced the troubles of being a female teacher in a strongly male realm.There were times when I wanted to take both women by the shoulders, shake hard and scream the answer at them, because the answer was staring both women in the face, which could be quite infuriating. But, in all honesty, it also makes the story more realistic. How often are the answers to your questions right infront of you?

I liked the bouncing back and forth between the then and now. It was often enough to keep the reader's interest, but not so often as to confuse. This is an important note to make as I recently read a book which bounced between two times from one paragraph to another, and I had to put the book down.

In terms of writing, this is no great piece of literature, but it is well written and easy to read. Not to mention, entertaining.

I recommend this title to historical fiction fans and fans of womens' history in particular.

Happy Reading!

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