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Review: Blindspot, Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore

Stuart Jameson, a face-painter, is forced to flee his debts in Scotland for the small provincial city of Boston in the American colonies.  He makes every effort to appear an honorable man in order to solicit customers, including hiring an apprentice.  That apprentice just so happens to be one Fanny Easton, disguised as Francis Weston, a disgraced daughter of Boston’s tiny imitation of aristocracy determined to seize her one opportunity at becoming a painter.  Together, they’re confronted by a murder mystery, an unexpected passion, and deep family secrets.

I was looking forward to reading this because one of the authors, Jane Kamensky, teaches at Brandeis University, which is where I did my undergrad degree.  I didn’t take a class with her (American history isn’t my thing when it comes to academics) but I did meet with her and hear her speak.  Also, the idea of proper historians writing historical fiction is exciting.  I know they’re not going to get the history wrong and if they can write, it has the potential to be an amazing combination, at least for me.  The question would be whether it lived up to my expectations, and I think it did in some ways but not in others.

First, I enjoyed this bawdy look at early Boston history.  It’s a nice change from the pure and proper picture that I think early American history often gets. The volume of sex is a bit discomforting and unnecessary at times, and doesn’t always work with the plot, but a lot of this book seems to be about culture rather than plot.  I’ve seen the writing referred to as purple and overblown in several places, but I’ve always been a fan of overwritten books.  I like the way such authors can play with the English language, and here it isn’t done enough to mock but to give off an atmosphere.

As far as plot goes, however, it wasn’t particularly exciting.  Looking back on the book, it’s very linear and predictable.  I didn’t guess who actually committed the murder, but I did with almost everything else, especially the ending.   And the romance didn’t sweep me away.  Passion was there, yes, but love?  It didn’t convince me.  Lastly, as much as I like a great atmosphere, the book was too long for its plot.  It took 150 pages to get to the mystery and it felt very slow, even though I don’t think it was meant to be suspenseful.  Mostly, the book at times felt like the authors were playing with each other, the period, and words, and it wasn’t necessarily conducive to a fantastic plot and characters even if it provided an interesting atmosphere and feeling for the period.

After nearly 500 pages, I’m not sure I can recommend this unless you’re interested in that sort of playful atmosphere.  The story is interesting enough, but it does take a while to read and needs some thought and engagement.

Check out Blindspot on Amazon.

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