‘ON THE 15TH DAY OF DECEMBER IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 1664, A GREAT LIGHT BLOOMED IN THE DARK SKY…’
Born on the night of a bad-luck comet, Ursula Flight has a difficult destiny written in the stars. Growing up with her family in the country, she is educated by a forward-thinking father who enables her to discover a love of reading, writing and astrology. Ursula dreams of becoming a famous playwright, but is devastated to learn she must instead fulfil her family’s expectations and marry. Trapped and lost, Ursula plots her escape – but her freedom will come at a price.
As Ursula’s dangerous desires play out, both on and off the stage, she’s flung into a giddy world of actors, aristocrats and artistic endeavours which will change her life irrevocably.
A gutsy coming-of-age story about a spirited young woman struggling to lead a creative life, this uplifting tale vividly evokes the glittering world of Restoration-era theatre. For anyone who has ever tried to succeed against the odds, The Illumination of Ursula Flight is an inspiring journey of love and loss, heartbreak and all-consuming passion. This is a debut pulsating with life for readers of Jessie Burton, Sarah Waters and Sarah Perry.
Today I am delighted to be taking part in my first blog tour of 2019, and what a book to start with! The Illumination of Ursula Flight by Anne-Marie Crowhurst is my first blog tour book of the year and I want to say a massive thank you to Kirsty Doole at Atlantic Books for inviting me to take part in the tour, and for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.
I was really looking forward to writing my review of this book, because I loved it and thought writing the review might be almost as fun as reading the book was. Then I happened to read this review of the book by the wonderful Jo at My Chestnut Reading Tree, and realised that she said everything I wanted to say about the book, and in such a lucid and elegant way that any review I wrote would be somewhat redundant! So, if you would like to read a definitive review of this book, please visit Jo’s blog. If you are still interested in my take on it, please read on and I’ll do my best to tell you why I loved it so.
The first thing I want to say, and I think this is the first book that has ever given me cause to mention this, is that the quality of this book is lovely. It has a gorgeous cover as you can see, and it is made of a really nice card; the paper is great quality and the book is printed beautifully. It was a great physical pleasure to read; a lovely tactile experience. This may sound weird to some, but true book lovers will know what I mean! This is a book where getting the paperback is a worthwhile investment. I am even contemplating buying it in hardback.
So, where do I start? Let’s go with the setting. This book is set in the Restoration period, which is not a historical period I particularly seek out as a genre, but I adored reading about it here and the author captured everything about it perfectly. The speech, the customs, the dress, the manners, the food – all so alien to us today but brought vividly to life between these pages so that the reader is totally immersed in it. As someone who is writing herself and, therefore, reading as a writer, I was very conscious of how skilfully the author has used every sense to bring the story and setting to life; reading purely as a reader, this is done subtly and seamlessly so the setting jumps off the page, grabs you and pulls you in without you realising it has done it. It is such a rich environment to mine, and Anne-Marie has dug every facet out with which to stud her book and gild the reading experience.
Next let’s talk about the structure, which is one of my favourite things about this book. It is told in the first person voice of the main character, Ursula Flight, and what a fantastic voice she has, but more about her later. However, rather than just straight prose, the author uses all manner of techniques to tell the story, including letters, diary entries, imaginary conversations and, most importantly, plays that she has written, based on real plays of the era which works brilliantly as a device to tie in with the crux of the story. It is so cleverly done and adds real variety and interest to the reading experience, and I found it worked to great effect to give Ursula a very clear and distinct voice. I’ve never seen a narrative done quite this way before, including very imaginative and fun use of fonts and typeface, and I really, really enjoyed it.
So, I’ve mentioned the character of Ursula above and what a clear voice she has. She was my favourite thing about this book for so many reasons. I defy anyone to read this book and not fall immediately in love with her and, I would even venture to suggest that, in Ursula, the author has created a truly memorable heroine in the best traditions of Becky Sharp and Moll Flanders. She is a woman ahead of her time; educated when women were not typically, intelligent, quick-witted, ambitious, adventurous, but bound by the fact of her gender and frustrated by the limitations it poses on her, particularly in the face of the stupidity of many of the men she meets. And, at the very heart of this book is its great joy. This is a novel about feminism; about the unfairness and futility of trying to keep women down and curtail their ambition, because talent will always out in the end and brave women will always fight for their own happiness. Despite the gap of years, the same issues are alive and well today; this book brings them in to sharp focus and holds them up as the fallacy they are and it is extremely relevant for women everywhere. You cannot read this book and fail to cheer Ursula on as she questions the status quo at every turn and highlights its absurdities as she pushes against it. However, this is not done in any kind of militant, man-hating way, but as a gentle and comedic showing of the nonsense of inequality through every age of man.
Yes, I did use the word comedic above because one of most delightfully unexpected things about this book is that it is very funny and extremely witty. The author has a great eye for the absurd, and uses it to great advantage here. I found myself laughing out loud more than once, and smiling inbetween at the quick-wittedness of Ursula, particularly in her exchanges with her husband and mother-in-law. I even photographed some of the pages so I could quickly read them again (dog-ear the pages? I could never!). My absolute favourites were the part where a character explains why reading is an unsuitable pastime for women, and when Ursula is discussing pre-marital sex with her new husband. These parts alone are worth buying the book for and have caused me to fall deeply in love with the author.
This is an intelligent, unique, topical, rich, rewarding and joyful book peopled with diverse and riveting characters, relevant issues and set in a fascinating and colourful period. I can’t remember when I last enjoyed a book so much and it has set a high bar for the rest of my reads for the year. You must buy it immediately.
The Illumination of Ursula Flight is available now and you can buy a copy here.
To follow the rest of the blog tour, check out the tour dates on the poster below:
About the Author
Anna-Marie Crowhurst has worked as a freelance journalist and columnist for more than 15 years, contributing to The Times, The Guardian, Time Out, Newsweek, Emerald Street and Stylist. In 2016 she studied for an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, where her debut novel The Illumination of Ursula Flight was born. She lives in London.
Connect with Anne-Marie: