Hester by Laurie Lico Albanese was kindly sent to me by the team over at Duckworth books back in August and this month I decided to finally get around to reading it and what a wonderful read it was. It’s a beautifully written and wonderfully thought-out book that has left me thinking about it days after I’ve finished it.
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Hester follows the story of Isobel Gamble and her struggle in the 1800s after she’s abandoned by her husband in a new land. She tries to utilise her hidden talent of embroidery but in a world that doesn’t like women being independent and with a hidden talent, she finds it far more difficult than she feels she might have if she’d just stayed in Scotland.
Hester plot – 4.5/5
Hester is a book all about Isobel Gamble and her marriage in the early 1800s to apothecary Edward who she hopes will be able to set her up for life. However, after seeming to settle in Scotland, Edward accepts a job which means he’ll be at sea for vast lengths of time, Isobele finds herself alone in Scotland without a husband or any money. So she needs to work out how to fend for herself.
Isobel also has something called Synesthesia which means she sees colours when people speak. During a time when people still think witches exist, she must keep this quiet from those she doesn’t trust. However, it does add a fantastic element to the story – literally being able to describe via the medium of colours how people are expressing themselves. For example, if someone she dislikes is saying something droll, it comes out as grey and black. But if someone she loves speaks, it comes out in warming, comforting tones such as yellows and ambers. It’s a great secondary layer to storytelling.
The plot is not dramatic and it isn’t particularly gripping – however, the way it is told and the underlying messages written within make this a really great overall read. The final third is quite tense and engaging and leads up to a great few chapters of page-turning action that round off the rest of the book well.
Hester characters – 4/5
Isobel Gamble herself is an enduring character. She arrives from a forward-thinking UK where women are becoming a more important part of society, accepted for their intelligence and usefulness. She arrives in an America where this isn’t yet so – men still rule the world and women aren’t “allowed” to have talents or show off their skills. They must stick to being a wife, and make sure everything is well at home. But when Isobel finds herself alone, she must fend for herself. She’s brave but shy – a combination that makes for a great and deep character.
As Isobel’s husband’s return becomes less and less likely, she grows closer to Nathaniel Hawthorne, a local writer. He’s a kind and honest man who is troubled by his dark past. He shows Isobel that, despite some of her premonitions on how men can act, there are good and smart men out there who don’t follow the regime, and who don’t rely on others to do their thinking for them. Their relationship is tepid and a little weak at times but slowly grows into something stronger and worth sticking out for.
Hester by Laurie Lico Albanese final rating – 4.25/5
Hester by Laurie Lico Albanese is a wonderfully written and romantic tale about the uphill fight Isobel has to face after her husband seemingly abandons her in America during a time when it isn’t so easy for women to make a name for themselves or even make a life for themselves on their own. Isobel’s synesthesia (the ability to see colours when people speak) adds a wonderful depth to the storytelling and character building with some of the characters already being very enjoyable. If you enjoy historical fiction and are looking for something a little more laid-back and poetic, Hester would be a fantastic option for you.
If you enjoyed this book, you may well enjoy my review of these books: