THE HOUSE GIRL by Tara Conklin

My aunt, knowing that I like historical fiction, loaned me her copy of The House Girl. I’m glad she did; the only thing better than reading a great book is reading a great book for free.

The House Girl has several major characters; the main characters are Lina in 2004 and Josephine in 1852, each with a unique voice. Being a historical novel fan, hooking me with Josephine’s story first got me into the story. For me, there is always a risk I will lose interest when the second chapter switches to a story told from a different character’s point-of-view. But, Lina’s story of preparing a reparations lawsuit was almost as compelling as Josephine’s, a slave, so that was no problem in this book.

Lina, in 2004, is an attorney working for a large law firm in New York City. I was a paralegal in a large (for Iowa) law firm for nearly nine years. The descriptions compared to the law firm where I worked – from the assistants to the attorneys’ offices, to living life in six-minute increments – were so uncannily similar to where I worked, I briefly wondered if the author had worked for the same firm. (According to her bio, she’s seemed to have lived her entire life in New England.)

As sometimes happens when I read novels, the author included some material of which I wondered about the purpose. On pages 73 through 75, she includes a list of names which was too lengthy and too tedious to read. Later, she also included some charts and tables I might expect to find in a textbook or case study. These took me out of the story and since I skipped them and don’t feel like I missed anything, didn’t add anything for me.

After that, there was nothing else that startled me or that I skipped. I loved the connection between the present and past demonstrated in this book. Part of it is Josephine’s story told from her own and Lina’s perspectives. Part of it is told through two other major characters through letters. Josephine’s story is the vein running throughout the book, but the other three major characters also have stories to tell with their own problems and character arcs. Tara Conklin pulled these stories together beautifully.

I also enjoyed the fact that though The House Girl focuses mostly on these four major characters, only one of them is living. And even though there is no time travel involved, they are all connected through time. It made me think about the past, lineage, heritage, and legacy – about the web of our connections as human beings.

There were several twists, turns, and surprises which kept me engaged in the book and reading through to the end. So, on a can’t-put-it-down-scale of one for I couldn’t even finish it to ten for I was up until the wee morning hours, I give it an eight.

Source: Conklin, Tara. 2013. The House Girl. William Morrow and Harper Collins: Canada.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *