Josephine's days are filled with cooking, cleaning, and caring for her ailing mistress, Lu Anne Bell, but there is a bright spot among the drudgery — Lu Anne fancies herself a artist, though she often grows too tired to finish her paintings and instead asks Josephine to complete them. Josephine's creations are beautiful, and their appeal will garner tremendous fame in the future, but only under Lu Anne's name. The House Girl poses complex questions about art, including why certain works become famous and others languish unseen. In Josephine's case, her paintings will be used in the future to romanticize plantation life and the legacy of slavery.
Conklin's writing is strong throughout The House Girl, but it truly shines during the sections dedicated to Josephine's story:
Who was she to think of escape? Who was she to imagine a world beyond Bell Creek? You foolish girl. Standing on the porch, the sharp smell of a distant fire, her dress stiff with dust and damp, the groan of old wood as Missus Lu leaned the rocker forward and back, forward and back, and Josephine felt as though roots had long ago forged themselves beneath her, securing her forever to this small piece of earth, and it was not within her power to release them. The chapters about Lina are well-crafted as well, and toward the end of the novel are full of urgency and suspense as she tries to unravel Josephine's fate in order to find her descendants. However, each time I reached a section about Lina, all I wanted was to rush through it and get back to Josephine.
My only true complaint about The House Girl is that the last-minute romance plot line felt forced and unnecessary, and a part of me wonders if it wasn't original but added in at the behest of an editor.
Overall, I strongly recommend this book, and want to thank the wonderful Alley for sending it to me! Four out of five stars.
Tara Conklin was born on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and now lives in Seattle. Like her character Lina, Conklin has worked as a litigator for a corporate law firm in New York and London. The House Girl is her first novel.
The House Girl © Tara Conklin and HarperCollins, 2013. Paperback, 365 pages.