Book Reviews: The Governess of Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky

The Governess of Highland Hall
by Carrie Turansky

Rated (3 out of 5 stars) 
 
Podcast interview with the author

When ill health forces the Foster family to return to England from their twelve-year mission trip to India, daughter Julia must do everything within her power to offer her parents monetary support. Since she is trained as a teacher, the logical choice is to become a governess, and so she immediately seeks such employment. Highland Hall is conveniently close to her parent's house, and so Julia prays desperately that Sir William will hire her to instruct his children and his two nieces. Little did she expect that upon receiving the position, Julia would find herself wishing for far more than just the place of a servant in this magnificent house. Kind and compassionate, she befriends both Sir William and his sister Sarah easily, and finds herself no longer dreaming of a return to India and her former life, but perhaps the start of a new life at Highland Hall.

To begin with the positive aspects of this novel: the heroine is charming and likeable, a secondary romance held me in rapt attention, and the children are adorable, both Millie and Andrew. It's sweet how Julia reads classic children's stories to them, like Robin Hood or The Jungle Book, and I love her patience with them. Sarah, William's sister, is a sweet creature, very compassionate and forgiving, who always tries to see the best in people. Plus, I learned about death duties, the taxes foisted upon the aristocracy by the English government when they inherit land or fortune. I had no idea that the taxes were so harsh, and that explains why so much of the aristocracy lost their homes. I just had no idea until this novel that there was such a thing.

Next, I can be a hopeless romantic, but it entirely depends upon the story I'm reading. Being choosy about the romantic fiction I read just comes with the territory for my personality type. So, while, The Governess of Highland Hall has many charming attributes, it simply did not serve to permanently peak my interest. One thing all readers should know is that the setting is in the Edwardian period, meaning Carrie Turansky is riding the coattails of the successful BBC miniseries Downton Abbey. Unfortunately for this book, I really dislike DA, or at best, have no fondness for it. It felt like watching a historic soap opera without any characters that would motivate me to care about their fate. In the same way, The Governess of Highland Hall delves perhaps a little too deeply into being a soap opera of emotions. And, if that were not enough, I feel that she based her story a little too strongly both on Downton Abbey, but also on Jane Eyre, which for me is almost unforgivable.

It is like a mishmash of both stories. Where the servants romantic lives are concerned, we have Downton Abbey. And where the young governess coming to care for the children of a brooding widower is concerned, we have Jane Eyre. I am not against people using the notion of the governess in literature. After all, Charlotte Brontë did not have sole ownership of that character type. However, if an author is going to use a governess in such a setting, it needs to be different from Jane Eyre. There was even a fire. I mean, really, that's been done and done very attractively in Charlotte Brontë's masterpiece. Also, and I hate to say this, but I dislike having Christianity be so prevalent in Christian fiction. Heavy-handed religious faith is unpleasant to read, sometimes even for Christians, and I feel that Ms. Turansky added a bit more than was good for the story.

Perhaps if Ms. Turansky's writing style had been more active, I could have appreciated the book more. As it is, the style lacks energy and excitement. She tells me everything instead of shows me. There is too much focus on the thoughts of the characters, for example, "William wanted to reply with the same sentiment, but his throat tightened, and he patted her back instead." I don't like hearing William's emotions like that. His actions need to show his emotions. She could just have easily left off the first half of the sentence and instead written, "His throat tightened and he merely patted her back." The reader is not foolish. We can understand what William is feeling without the author having to tell us what he's feeling. Show us his actions, and I guarantee that we will understand.

Finally, I'm sure that Ms. Turansky's book will be a great success. Downton Abbey is obscenely popular right now, and her book is full of charming characters. For me, it was just too similar to a great classic without having any of its meat. 

 - I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Comments

  1. Very good review Carissa. I've read mixed reviews of this book, some really liked it, some had issues with it, similar to yours.
    I must admit I do love Edwardian fiction and I do love fiction in which governesses play a role. Not (just) because of Downton or Jane Eyre, but just because these are interesting subjects. So I might give this novel a try, if I can get it at the library for example.

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