Fiction – paperback; Fourth Estate; 302 pages; 2003. Review copy courtesy of the publisher.
Remember the Lassie movies? I remember one particular one — Lassie Come Home I think — in which the collie overcomes great obstacles and distances to return home to her owner. She has had such a difficult journey her little paws drip blood and you don’t expect her to survive. It sounds pathetic, but I remember crying my eyes out at the end. It’s odd, I know, but I can’t help comparing the emotional impact of that old black and white movie with Paulette Jiles’ Enemy Women.
Set in America during the Civil War, the heroine, Adair Colley, is imprisoned under (false) accusations of being a Confederate spy. Feisty and determined, the 19 year-old escapes jail and goes on an amazingly tortuous journey to reunite her family torn asunder by the war. During her long walk home we see her being worn down mentally and physically, courting danger at every turn. She has many narrow escapes and before long the reader begins to wonder if she will ever reach her destination at all.
I won’t spoil the ending, but let me say it was like watching Lassie Come Home all over again. I’m not ashamed to say I had tears coursing down my cheeks by the time I turned the last page.
This is a brilliant book, extremely evocative of a past era, and while it plays the emotion card, it’s never cloying or overly sentimental. It will, I’m sure, make a brilliant movie should the screen rights ever be sold. Take your tissues.