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The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Historical Fiction

By Swirl and Thread

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‘They say I must be put to death for what happened to Madame, and they want me to confess.’ 

The Confessions of Frannie Langton is the unbelievable debut novel by Sara Collins. Just published with Viking Books (Penguin) it is described ‘as a remarkable literary debut’.

1820s London plays host to the trial of the century, as former Jamaican slave, Frannie Langton is tried for the murder of her boss and his wife, their bodies discovered in pools of blood in their home. Frannie has become the talk of London with folk calling her ‘a seductress, a manipulator, a witch and a murderer’. Frannie proclaims her innocence, having no memory of the night in question. But as she was found lying in the bed beside her dead mistress, Frannie knows that her future is now at the end of the hangman’s noose.

Frannie makes the decision to write down her thoughts and her story for others to read and to make of what they will. From the confines of her cell she takes the reader back to Jamaica and to the plantation where she was raised as a mulatto slave but one that was given the opportunity to read and write. Frannie’s story is shocking in every sense, as the truth of her years spent in Jamaica are slowly revealed. Frannie became part of something much bigger, something frightening, something abhorrent lending a very gothic twist to her tale.

When Sara Collins decided to write about Frannie, she wanted to explore the ‘underbelly of slavery’. Having been an avid reader of the classics growing up, Sara Collins felt that there was a wide gap between the world she was raised in and the books that inhabited her head, hence the idea for a Jamaican former slave becoming the central character in her novel.

‘I wanted to put a Jamaican woman into Jane Austen territory, but I wanted to see what would happen if I allowed her to be angry. I think that’s an emotion we haven’t seen much from women in literature, and especially from black women’ – Sara Collins

Frannie Langton was a character that played with my thoughts. I had great sympathy for Frannie but yet I admit to also being a little frightened of her. Frannie was a product of her upbringing, of that there is no doubt. As a mulatto slave, her place was never defined and when she is taken to London and placed into servitude in a grand house, Frannie is bewildered. Her mistress is French and has her own strange ways, unusual for a lady of her standing in society at the time. There is a streak of daring in her and an ethereal beauty that takes Frannie’s breath away. Frannie’s future in the household is very much determined by her master, George Benham. Frannie has information he is looking for, from her years in Jamaica and he is hoping to extract this knowledge from her, but Frannie is unwilling to reveal her dark secrets…until now.

‘What would you want to be remembered for? If you had one last page and one last hour, what would you write? In the end, this is what I choose. My account of myself. The only thing I’ll be able to leave behind. That there are two things I loved: all those books I read, and all the people who wrote them. Because life is nothing, in spite of all that fuss, yet novels make it possible to believe it is something after all’. – Frannie Langton

The Confessions of Frannie Langton is quite unlike any book that I have read before. The style in which it is written brings Frannie to life as she shares her story with us, with the true heartache and pain evident in all her words. Sara Collins may be a debut author, but she writes with such an incredible hand. The narrative brings the reader on a journey that evokes so many emotions from anger to terror to despair.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton is not a book to be rushed. The pace of the story is slow and focus is definitely a requirement as you follow the thread of the story. It is narrated by Frannie, so, at times, the dialect can take a little getting used to which may not appeal to all. It is a literary novel, a novel that the author felt needed to be written…

‘1820s London was a very interesting time in the life of the British Empire. It was between the abolition of the slave trade and the emancipation of the slaves, a kind of limbo period where abolitionists were patting themselves on the back, but many people were turning a blind eye to the fact that those who had been left enslaved were still suffering and conditions were getting worse and worse for them. So I wanted to challenge the kind of self-congratulatory legacy of that era and the veneer of civility that we associate with it…..Beneath that, there was this underbelly of slavery, and addiction, and sin…..’ – Sara Collins

The Confessions of Frannie Langton asks many questions, exposing some of the horrors behind a period in our history that has left a mark on generations of folk, past, present and future. A sumptious and challenging novel with a touch of the Gothic.

Will you be reading Frannie’s story?

(c) Swirl and Thread

Order your copy online here.

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