Susanna Kearsley's A Desperate Fortune (2015)

A Desperate Fortune - Susanna Kearsley

Although highly-entertaining and a satisfying page-turner, there is more substance to this novel than the cover might suggest.


Not only is the duality of a shadow-court inherently intriguing ("a castle with its king and all his courtiers who were real, yet without substance, moving always as a mirror to their counterparts across the sea"), but the mirror imagery operates at a variety of levels.

Reflections abound.



One woman is in the present, who has learned to mimic others around her in order to camouflage her Aspergers, is near Paris (at La maison de chatou).


And she is decoding the experiences of a Jacobite exile, written 300 years ago in the past, who learned to mask her true feelings and transform like a fairy in an old-fashioned tale.


The diary presents itself with two faces as well. Readers see it in the present-day with "worn cloth-covered boards and pages turned a golden beige by time and ...[ink once] black, but time had faced it to brown".  


And, through the original writer's eyes: "with all its pages blank, exactly like the one in which her uncle kept household accounts, with cloth boards and a leather spine, and with it had been a cylindrical travelling pen set, the inkwell and talc in small sections that screwed one on top of the other beneath the only section ta held three plain quill pens with neatly carved nibs."


Even the fairy tales have more than one layer of meaning reflected within.


"‘Well, these are not the fairy tales that we grew up with. These were written for adults, and they belonged to a distinct period of time, and a distinct group of women, nearly all of them women of the novel class. It was a clever and subversive thing they did, to tell these fairy tales. Sometimes they would take well-known tales from folklore and adapt them, but as often they created them from their imaginations, and you see how they are commenting on how life is around them, on the world and how it limits them."


And this is precisely what it seems that Susanna Kearsley aims to do: comment on how life is around these women, on history and how it has limited them, but also comment on how these women's cleverness and revolutionary thoughts and actions allowed them to adapt and endure.

These thoughts originally appeared on BuriedInPrint.