Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Review: Exiled by Helene Holt

Reviewed by Christina

Published: 1987

Full Title: Exiled: The Story of John Lathrop, 1584-1653

It's about: John Lathrop (or, as it's spelled throughout the novel, Lothropp) was a minister who opposed the Church of England in an age when dissent was a very dangerous activity. This biographical novel tells the story of his imprisonment and eventual exile to America.

I thought: My grandfather lent me this book a few months ago when we were discussing our ancestors; John Lathrop is my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather (give or take a "great" or two). So, from a personal and family history standpoint, I was really interested and excited about this book. I also love to learn about this period in general. But I didn't expect much from Exiled in the style department and I'm glad I didn't get my hopes up. The writing is exceptionally bad. It's riddled with clich├ęs and extremely stilted dialogue. Almost all the characters are completely flat. There are unnecessary and condescending phrases like "As was the custom of the day" and "As was the fashion for women of the time" and yet certain other period references aren't explained. A better editor could have helped with these flaws.

Another thing that bothered me was the sensationalization of Lothropp's life story. In particular, there's an attempted prison rape scene that I highly doubt is based on any actual documentation (since it's extremely unlikely that such an incident would have been reported). So why did Ms. Holt include it? To show that Lothropp was not only good and righteous, but also stronger and manlier than his fellow inmates? To emphasize the danger of seventeenth-century prisons in London? My theory is that she just wanted to hype up the drama a little, and it bothers me that she would use rape that way.

All my complaints aside, the book is very well-researched and educational; I enjoyed learning more about the religious and political situation that urged puritans toward their migration to Massachusetts. I never realized the actual physical danger they had been threatened with in England. Though, now that I think about it, I'm wondering whether that might have been exaggerated too.

Verdict: In-between. If you happen to be one of Lathrop's 80,000+ descendants, Exiled might be of interest to you. Otherwise, I wouldn't particularly recommend it.

Reading Recommendations: Check it out if you really like to read about 17th century England, or if you want to know more about puritans' lives before they came to America.

Warnings: Floggings, murder, the aforementioned prison rape scene, and other violent acts. I was amused by Ms. Holt's use of sexual violence as juxtaposed with her writing ______ instead of an "oath" (probably God damn.) That just makes no sense to me.

What I'm reading next: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. YAYAYAYAYAY!!!!!!