Monday, 23 May 2011

Book Review: In the Shadow of the Lamp

It's 1854 and sixteen-year-old Molly would give anything to change her circumstances as a lowly servant in a posh London house. So when she hears of an opportunity to join the nurses who will be traveling with Florence Nightingale to the Crimea, she jumps at the chance. The work is grueling, the hospital conditions deplorable, and Miss Nightingale a demanding teacher. Before long, the plight of British soldiers becomes more than just a mission of mercy as Molly finds that she's falling in love with both a dashing young doctor and a soldier who has joined the army to be near her. But with the battle raging ever nearer, can Molly keep the two men she cares for from harm? A love story to savor, and a fascinating behind-the-scenes imagining of the woman who became known as "the lady with the lamp."

One of the initial things that led me towards reading Susanne Dunlap's recent novel, In the Shadow of the Lamp, was its distinct historical setting during the Crimean War of the Victorian period. In fact, it is the Crimean War which inspired one of my favourite poems by Tennyson, "The Charge of the Light Brigade!" In terms of historical detailing and authenticity, I think it is very apparent that Susanne Dunlap put a lot of effort into researching not only the figure of Florence Nightingale (who was a real nurse), but  the conditions faced by doctors and soldiers on the front lines as well. I also appreciated the fact that besides the main character Molly, many of the names of the nurses in the novel were taken from those who actually travelled with Florence Nightingale to Scutari.

When it came to the actual plot of this novel, however, I didn't find it overly exciting. While I appreciated the historical detailing, I found Molly's relationships with both Will and Dr. Maclean to be frustrating! Throughout the entire novel she admits to having strong feelings for one of the men and not the other. Despite these feelings she ends marrying the man she thinks of as just a friend! Her relationship with the man she actually seems to love (who shall remain nameless to keep from spoiling it for those of you who may read it), seemed to depict them as destined for each other! Instead, her marrying of the other man is justified by the author's writing that deep down inside Molly had loved him secretly all along.

This sudden change of heart seemed like a bit of a cop out in my opinion, and I mulled over this ending for two days before writing this review. While in some ways I would agree that Susanne Dunlap's decision to perhaps not follow the perfect relationship track is to be commended for its stand against Hollywood endings, it somewhat disappointed me as a reader. Nevertheless, despite all of these criticisms that I have been throwing at In the Shadow of the Lamp, I did enjoy my time spent reading it. Although I wouldn't say that it is an amazing read, this novel is certainly something to consider if you are a lover of historical fiction.

Rating: 3 Stars

PS. Random interesting fact.....
The title of this book confused me for some time, as Molly is never referred to as carrying a lamp, so the whole time I was reading I was bewildered about why this novel was called In the Shadow of the Lamp. It turns out that in The Times, Florence Nightingale was nicknamed 'The Lady with the Lamp,' and so the title of this novel reflects Molly's time spent living and learning from this significant figure in Victorian nursing!  


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