Review: The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier


Title: The Last Runaway

Author: Tracy Chevalier

Published: HarperCollins Australia Jan 2013

Synopsis: When modest Quaker Honor Bright sails from Bristol with her sister, she is fleeing heartache for a new life in America, far from home. But tragedy leaves her alone and vulnerable, torn between two worlds and dependent on the kindness of strangers. Life in 1850s Ohio is precarious and unsentimental. The sun is too hot, the thunderstorms too violent, the snow too deep. The roads are spattered with mud and spit. The woods are home to skunks and porcupines and raccoons. They also shelter slaves escaping north to freedom. Should Honor hide runaways from the ruthless men who hunt them down? The Quaker community she has joined may oppose slavery in principle, but does it have the courage to help her defy the law? As she struggles to find her place and her voice, Honor must decide what she is willing to risk for her beliefs. Set in the tangled forests and sunlit cornfields of Ohio, Tracy Chevalier′s vivid novel is the story of bad men and spirited women, surprising marriages and unlikely friendships, and the remarkable power of defiance.

Status: Read from January 08 to 09, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy TheReadingRoom}

My Thoughts:

Girl with a Pearl Earring, was a bestseller for Tracy Chevalier so when I received a copy of The Last Runaway I was looking forward to read it. Set in the 1850’s, this novel follows Quaker Honor Bright, accompanying her betrothed sister, on her journey from England to a new life in America. When tragedy strikes, Honor must continue to Ohio on her own where she struggles with an unfamiliar society, far from her family and friends.

Unfortunately I was rather underwhelmed by The Last Runaway. The larger themes examined are the difficulties of choosing between principles and practicalities, passion and duty, but the contradictions are only cursorily explored.

Honor lacked the spirit I expected from a lead character, even as a Quaker woman of her time. She makes little effort to connect with her new life and her passive demeanor is uninteresting. Her letters home reveal more of her character, but it’s only a glimpse without sharing nay real insight. For me, Honor’s rebellion against her husband and the Society by not speaking for six months, came across as a passive aggressive ultimatum rather than the spiritual choice Chevalier intended.

I thought most of the characters in The Last Runaway tended to be fairly one dimensional, including Honor’s new husband and mother in law. I really liked Belle though, a milliner who welcomes Honor into her home during her journey and is instrumental in supporting the Underground. Belle’s brother Donovan, a slave hunter, is perhaps the most complex character in the novel but he remains largely incidental to the story.

Much is made of Honor’s role in the Underground Railway in the synopsis, however her actual interaction with the escaping slaves was minimal. She leaves food out under upturned crates and whispers instructions to those that occasionally pass through but it is passive assistance, even with the threat of the Slave Fugitive Act. While there are glimpses of the fear and desperation of the escaping slaves, it seems almost irrelevant somehow.

The ending was quite the surprise however, not what I was generally expecting though it was not quite enough to redeem the book either.

For me The Lost Runaway was not much more than okay. It gave a brief glimpse into life during a specific time and place but without the depth I thought the subject deserved and the author capable of.

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Marg
    Jan 19, 2013 @ 22:45:32

    I was disappointed by the last Chevalier book I read, but I was hoping to go back to the reading experience of Girl With a Pearl Earring with her next books. However, I had heard very little about this book coming out until I saw it in a bookshop recently.



    • shelleyrae @ Book'd Out
      Jan 20, 2013 @ 17:36:08

      To be honest the premise of a Girl with a Pearl Earring doesn’t interest me but this one did, just a shame it feel short for me I guess



  2. Sarah
    Jan 21, 2013 @ 07:48:10

    I was just thinking that I hadn’t read Tracy Chevalier in a long time. But from your review it doesn’t sound like this book is for me. Thanks for the review.



  3. Lenie
    May 17, 2013 @ 09:24:17

    This was the first Tracy Chevalier novel I’ve read- interesting glimpses into aspects of life in America during the abolitionist fight and life as a Quaker, and I expected to find the tale gripping, so was disappointed. But Belle the milliner and Mrs Reed, the local leader in the ‘Underground Railway’ to assist runaway slaves who intrigued and affected me.



  4. Trackback: Disappointing ending ……………….. | Cathy @ Still Waters

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