As soon as I heard of The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins, I knew that I wanted to read it. I was actually surprised I’d never heard of it before, as it won the Best First Novel category at the Costa Book Awards 2019. So I was very grateful to Clare Mackintosh‘s Facebook book club (which previously introduced me to I Am, I Am, I Am) for bringing it to my attention. Although I was slightly concerned by all the negative comments I read on Facebook about it by people who didn’t find it interesting or exciting or just didn’t get it.
Those people were WRONG.
The Confessions of Frannie Langton is a brilliant book. Set in the early 19th century in Jamaica and London, it is a very timely read – a little bit of Black history in novel form. Frannie is a well-educated slave girl. She doesn’t fit in with the other slaves on the plantation in Jamaica, nor the white servants at the house in London.
Taught to read as a small child by her mistress, Miss-bella, she is then taken to work for her master, Mr Langton. Langton owns a plantation and also fancies himself as a scientist. He wants to prove the scientific differences between Blacks and whites. So he needs to conduct experiments to prove his theories. And Frannie, who is only a child, has no choice but to help him.
Even though her life could be seen as ‘easier’ by the other slaves, Frannie has no choice in anything. So when Langton decides to travel to London and leave her to work for Mr and Mrs Benham, that is what she must do. London is a shock to her system after the heat of Jamaica. She is treated with distrust by those around her. She is a ‘darky’ or a ‘blacky’, so she must be a savage. They trust her even less when they realise how educated she is.
But Mrs Benham takes a shine to the new maid, who soon finds herself in an elevated position in the household. But can a white lady ever be trusted?
Frannie is accused of the brutal murder of Mr and Mrs Benham. The whole book is her life story – written down on request from her lawyer to see if he can find some defence for her. Because Frannie cannot be sure whether she has actually murdered the only person she ever loved…
The Confessions of Frannie Langton is a brilliant read, which I devoured as quickly as possible. Frannie herself is an intriguing and complex character. The book is also a really good insight into slavery, the lives of Black people in the 19th century and life in general in the 19th century. To me it wasn’t a challenging read, but it is certainly more challenging than your average psychological thriller or chick-lit.
If you are looking for something a bit different to read this summer, I would definitely recommend The Confessions of Frannie Langton.