What’s Chocolate Hearts From The New World all about?:
Michel Faber revisits the world of his bestselling novel The Crimson Petal and the White, conjuring tantalising glimpses of its characters, their lives before we first met them and their intriguing futures. You’ll be desperate for more by the time you reluctantly re-emerge into the twenty-first century.
This story involves the characters of Dr Curlew and his daughter Emmeline who is a strident protester against slavery, and centres on a letter that she receives from one of the men she writes to in the hope that he will free the slaves he employs.
What did I think?:
Chocolate Hearts From The New World is the third story in Michel Faber’s collection that offers the reader the opportunity to re-visit beloved characters from the marvellous novel The Crimson Petal and the White. Some of the stories in this collection take on the characters past and some the future, which is a brilliant touch in my opinion by the author in giving die-hard Crimson Petal fans a bit more information about the unforgettable and sometimes eccentric people in the novel. The characters in this story are Dr Curlew who was the Rackham family physician, and his daughter Emmeline – often cruelly described as “horse-faced.” It looks back on her adolescent years where her father was desperately worried that she only had five good years left to find a husband, even to the point where he describes her as his “unfortunate” daughter. You see:
“The same physical features that made him such a distinguished-looking man – tall, rangy build, aquiline nose, long face, strong jaw – were a calamitous inheritance for a girl. If she acted quickly, while she was in her teens, there was still hope.”
Charming, you might think! But he redeems himself slightly when he suggests that she is “blameless,” it was him after all that passed the infamous jaw down to her and declares that when she smiles she is quite winsome with dimples in her cheeks, bright eyes, an unlined face and glossy hair. It is obvious that he loves his daughter a great deal as although he is worried for her marriage prospects as he refuses to argue with her on the subject as that would have upset his late wife. His hopes are buoyed however when he learns that she has been corresponding with a few men in America – even if it is merely to chide them on their use of slaves, quoting passages from the Bible and pleading to their better nature.
I really enjoyed the character of Emmeline in this short story, she seems independent, spirited and while respectful of her father, able to voice and be confident in her own opinion. It was quite amusing to read that when she got a few heated replies to her many letters, she was able to write back saying that she hoped that the Lord would forgive them “for your unkind and, if I may say so, blasphemous words…” Then comes a rather different reply that Emmeline has not bargained for consisting of a long letter with the gentleman’s reasoning behind his choice to employ slaves, a bit of flattery, a bit of hope for the future (especially from Dr Curlew’s point of view!) and best of all, a box of expensive looking chocolates. What’s a girl to do?
This was a lovely little story that I enjoyed more and more as I continued to think about it, and is another example of some beautiful and introspective writing from Michel Faber. With his writing, even with the short stories, it almost feels like you are sat at a table with the characters, or are listening to them as their closest confidant. I am eagerly anticipating the next story in the collection which concerns Mr Bodley, William Rackham’s obnoxious friend whom I remember vividly and with slight disgust from the novel.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):
NEXT SHORT STORY: Snatched by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)