One thing I love about the library is that you can take out books that you would like to read but might not really buy. The one thing that can be a problem is you take out so many that you forget to read them. This happened with me last week when an email arrived with the word ‘overdue’ in the title. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem I would renew the books and pay the fine, no probs. Someone though, quite selfishly ha, had already reserved one of my books on loan ‘The Shuttle’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett so I had less than 24 hours to read it. Fortunately I am having a month off and so I could, doubly fortunate as the next night was book group and I hadn’t read a page of 1984 yet.
The Shuttle is one of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s adult fiction books. I should admit here I haven’t read any of her children’s titles either. I had picked it up purely as it was a Persephone novel and I have wanted to read as many as I can get my hands on frankly. Reading the synopsis in the book cover I wasn’t sure this was going to fare very well with me as it seemed to be about the ships that took American’s to England and vice versa in the late 1800’s. I don’t really do books with ships and so with trepidation I opened the book… and then simply couldn’t put it down.
Though there are some chapters involving ships and the description of ships not once was a bored as this book has so much more to offer it is actually a wonderful social history study and romantic mystery. Nigel Anstruthers travels to America in search of a rich American wife. He has a title and a stately home but absolutely no money, in fact he is in debts up to his eyeballs and beyond and a wife is a means to an end to that. He meets the meek and suggestible Rosalie Vanderpoel and tricks her into believing he is marrying her for love. Once across the ocean she learns that he didn’t marry her for that at all and in fact wants her money and to shut her off from the world.
On the other side of the ocean her family are mortified, but Anstruthers hasn’t counted on Rosalie’s younger and much more forthright and spirited sister Bettina wanting to find out the mystery of her sisters sudden disappearance. The novel then takes you on an epic journey as Bettina grows up and uses all the skills and knowledge she can in order to counter an attack against Anstruthers and whatever may have happened to her sister. The journey is filled with drama, adventure and a brilliant romantic storyline. I loved the evilness of both Nigel and his mother, Nigel in particular is a true villain if there ever was one. Bettina does steal the show with her gutsy determination and quick wit.
This novel really does have everything and you cannot help yourself from turning all the 600 pages in almost one sitting, I was almost unable to put the book down. Plus anyone who can name a character Ughtred is naturally going to be someone I treasure. This is unquestionably one of my very favourite books of the year, it has everything and a slight sensational feel so how could it not be, and may be one of my favourite reads of all time. If you want a book that has with mystery, adventure (in the form of a collision at sea which starts a possible romance), comedy, darkness, romance and some wonderful, wonderful characters then this is most definitely for you.
It was the fact that I loved it so, so much that it ended up making me cross because I had to give it back. Though when I am taken to the Persephone Bookshop for a treat in the next week or so it will be one of the books I instantly have to have, I do feel there will be a few of these though.
Have you read The Shuttle? Did you utterly, utterly adore it as I did? What else of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s books must I read? Have you borrowed a book from the library and not wanted to give it back, if so what was it?