The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins
Published by Penguin, 2019
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Frannie Langton has been called many things throughout her life. ‘Mulatta’, slave, whore, seductress. And now murderer. Facing the death penalty for the supposed killing of her white master and mistress, Frannie vows she remembers nothing of the fateful night in question, though maintains she could never have murdered Mrs Benham, the woman with whom she was deeply in love. This novel is her testimony, taking us all the way from her birth on a plantation in Jamaica to her incarceration in London, as she attempts to make sense of the life she has lived, and to prove her innocence – to the jury as much as to herself.
Frannie is a phenomenally well-drawn character. Complex, intelligent, passionate, and unfalteringly human, Collins has created a character whose flaws make her all the more compelling. As we learn ever-more about her chequered past, Collins explores the burden of internalised shame and trauma, and asks us to consider where we draw the line on culpability. She does so by laying bare the trappings of race, class, gender, and sexuality, and the admirable though often morally ambiguous fight to gain autonomy in a world that will only ever see you as lesser.
Collins’ prose is also fantastic. She evokes the balmy heat of Jamaica and the opium-fuelled musk of Georgian London with equal aplomb. Visceral and transporting, I was drawn into the rich, seedy world of her heroine from the very beginning; the beauty of the writing itself serving as the perfect foil for the pain of Frannie’s story.
There is also a wonderfully playful, meta element to the book. The whole thing is written in the second person, addressed to the lawyer defending Frannie in court. She sees this as her literal confession, and hopes he may one day be able to get it published. As a woman of colour, she is well aware that her story will be twisted to fit existing narratives informed by misogynistic, racist stereotypes. This is Frannie reclaiming her story; the implication that we are now holding that successfully published manuscript adding a deeply poignant layer of realism to the reading experience.
I flew through this novel in a mere few sittings. There are as many unexpected turns in the narrative as there are tragically inevitable ones, and a consistent thread about the power of books to impart knowledge – and offer escapism – that I adored. Frannie is a heroine I know will continue to haunt my thoughts for quite some time; Collins an author whose career I can’t wait to follow.
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