The House Girl by Tara Conklin

I enjoyed exactly 50% of this novel. Ok, maybe closer to 60%, since some of the half that I disliked dealt explicitly with the half that I did.

The House Girl tells the story of two women separated by hundreds of years. Josephine is an escaped slave whose incredible paintings have been credited to her owner. Carolina Sparrow is a present-day junior lawyer who stumbles across Josephine’s story while working on a big shot reparations lawsuit. Their stories intersect at various points, and in spite of the years between them and the varying circumstances, these women have both endured adversity and struggle.

I understand that it’s tough work being a lawyer, but it still seems preferable to slavery on a number of levels.  The more that is revealed about Josephine, the more inconsequential Lina seems. Initially, it was easier to align with a character of our century, but my allegiance to Lina faded by the end of the first chapter. This lady is in a partner-track position at a prominent law firm. Her dad is a respected artist with a decent fan-base. Sure, she has suffered loss, but she is attractive, young, and successful.

The trivial details of Lina’s life are trumped by the mere fact that Josephine is a slave. And then we learn the facts of Josephine’s tormented existence, and of her determination to achieve something better for herself and her child. But oh, poor Lina had to break up with her boyfriend when he moved to San Francisco. Pfffft.

Conklin’s attempt to craft parallel narratives make sense, and she throws in some nice little tricks here and there (Lina lost her mother when she was 4, Josephine’s son is rescued when he is 4). Literary devices aside, though, Josephine’s story is more than capable of standing on its own, and Lina’s narrative only served to anger me when it constantly interrupted the story that I really wanted to hear.


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