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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

Parallel Stories, Parallel Lives

Confinement - Katharine McMahon

There are two parallel narrative in Katharine McMahon's Confinement: the story of Bess Hardemon a nineteenth century pioneer of education for girls who struggles to overcome prejudice and ignorance to create Prior's Heath School for Girls; and the story of Sarah Beckett a pupil at the same school in the late nineteen sixties.

The two narratives share the same set of themes: the conflict between ambition and domesticity; the expectations that society imposes on women; the fine line between selfishness and self-fulfilment; and the way that the past informs the present.

In a discussion of this book that appears at the end of this edition, Katherine McMahon declares that this is also a book about being a writer in that it focuses on the contradictory impulses towards withdrawal from, and participation in, the world that so many authors wrestle with.

It's very much a woman's book; men come out of it pretty badly overall. But that didn't detract from my pleasure in reading it. I enjoyed the strong characterisation, the close attention to period detail and, most of all, the forensic dissection of the characters' attempts, sometimes misguided or ill-judged, to find meaning in their daily lives.