Rating: 3.5 stars
I should have recognised the author’s name here and known from the start what the content of this book would be. Susan Hill is, of course, the author of The Woman in Black, which I always confuse with Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, and eagerly anticipate histrionic Victorian japery feat. madness instead of illegitimate-child-related ghoulishness.
There is neither ghoulishness nor histrionics in From the Heart. It is a simple, touching book that follows the story of Olive Piper who, on account of her passion for literature, is encouraged by a teacher to go to university. At university, she strikes up an awkward romance with a trainee doctor (or, rather, he strikes one up with her) which ends rather poorly for reasons that I will not spoil. I think we are supposed to mildly dislike Malcolm, this doctor, but Olive old-school ghosts him by ignoring his letters, so unfortunately I ended up on his side and did not particularly like Olive, despite the book’s dust jacket promising me that ‘everyone’ likes her.
Olive eventually goes on to become an English teacher herself, during which time she embarks upon another romance. I thought this was well-done and quite moving, only here Olive (despite purportedly now being a woman of the world) ignores some pretty obvious red flags, and despite her experiences behaves in a rather coltish way that once again I found hard to engage with.
There are many things to recommend this book: its engaging style, its snapshot of a life over many years, its delicacy in dealing with tragedy and trauma. However, for a book published this year, even one set in the 1950s, it reads as peculiarly dated, and doesn’t have much to engage a modern reader looking for a woman with a shred of initiative.
Of course, not everyone is looking for that, and I did enjoy the book. It just left me very frustrated, and I found, in the end, that though I liked the book, I did not like Olive at all.
Reviewed by Louise