A Silent Ocean Away
In 1833 Richmond, Virginia, fifteen-year-old Charmaine Ryan leaves poverty behind when she takes a job as companion to wealthy Loretta Harrington. The daughter of an alcoholic wife-beater, Charmaine naturally distrusts most men yet remains open to whatever opportunities life might offer her. Three years later, Mrs. Harrington helps her obtain a position as governess on Charmantes, the Duvoisin family’s private Caribbean island estate. Charmaine quickly befriends Colette Duvoisin, the youthful mother of her three charges, but all is not well in her adopted island home. As she gets drawn into the Duvoisins’ circle, Charmaine puzzles over the reasons behind their obvious discontent. Why are relations uneasy between Colette and Frederic, her elderly shipping magnate husband, and what caused his estrangement from his eldest son, John? Is there an unnatural reason for Colette’s constant ill health? And will Charmaine act on her attraction to Paul, Frederic’s dashing bastard son?
The novel, co-authored by two sisters writing under a pseudonym and previously self-published, lacks a certain polish. There are many abrupt viewpoint shifts (do we need to hear every minor character’s thoughts?), and the prose veers from clunky to elegant and back again. Perhaps the lush, informal island setting can excuse the lack of attention paid to some social niceties, but one would expect sharper divisions between the classes, and Charmaine’s position as governess doesn’t involve much academic instruction. Yet despite its flaws, the saga never failed to keep my attention. It has an epic, page-turning quality many other novels only aspire to. I found myself transported to the authors’ fascinating fictional creation of Charmantes, caught up in the drama of the characters’ lives and eager to continue the Duvoisins’ story in the next volume of the Colette trilogy. Put this one in the “guilty pleasure” category.