The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney
In 1798, Daniel Dickinson, a young father and widower, shunned by his Quaker community, leaves his home in Pennsylvania to start a new life in Virginia where, despite his good intentions, he becomes embroiled in the slave economy, raises his children in poverty and ignorance and watches from the sidelines as they contrive to ruin their lives and the lives of those they come into contact with.
In the author's native Canada this novel won the Governor General's Prize, normally a guarantee of literary excellence. However, I found it disappointing and meandering. Perhaps that's a consequence of it being based on the author's family history. It starts out as Daniel's story but gradually the author seems to lose interest in him and he is eventually relegated to the position of spectator as the narrative focuses instead on the stories of his children. Yet, with the exception of Mary, his eldest daughter, they are only partially developed characters. So this is a frustrating development for the reader.
For me, this novel seems only partially fashioned. There is a measure of authenticity, certainly, and a story that would probably bear further exploration. But the structure disintegrates as the novel goes on, and that disintegration is mirrored in the prose. It ends up feeling more like a series of lyrical fragments than a coherent novel.