Thursday, 21 February 2019

The Flight of Cornelia Blackwood - Susan Elliott Wright

This was a harrowing and distressing book to read and not dissipated by the author’s assurance that the scenario was a very unlikely one. Without wishing to divulge too many spoilers this book looks at the devastating effects of postpartum psychosis on one woman’s life, Cornelia, ‘Leah’, Blackwood. And of course those around her. This book also does much to show how mental illness affects not just the sufferer but those connected to the sufferer in whatever way.

I commend this book for the sensitivity with which this writer has dealt with the subject. But do not expect to sit down and enjoy a jolly, entertaining read. Be prepared to have your emotions pulverised by the events depicted in this book. 

The book is written with a ‘now’ and ;then’ dual time frame and is, what I like to call, an onion story. Layers of the past are revealed bit by bit and even if you think you can second guess what might have happened you can’t really so the ultimate reveal although implied,  is pretty upsetting to put it mildly. The writing is fresh and fast paced and urges its reader along with a spiralling urgency that makes for an anxious dash to the book’s conclusion. It’s well plotted and may hint of contrivance at times but it’s a work of fiction. As the narrative progresses the reader is frequently asking questions about what might have happened to provoke what seems to be an ostracising of Leah. 

The main character, Leah, is not especially likeable, well I didn’t find her so but when you read what she’s been through your emotions are engaged and you can understand how being likeable isn’t really high on her list of surviving in a world that has dealt her some bitter blows. Adrian, her husband, seems a little too good to be true at times but may be a character device to highlight Leah’s unravelling. 

The significance of the crows is well sustained throughout the book and although poet Ted Hughes is referenced it is not with regard to Crow but to The Thought Fox which somehow I found subliminally very clever! 

It’s a well written book, clearly of supreme importance to the writer and her passion and emotional investment in the subject shines through. It’s a book that will leave you thinking long after you’ve turned the final page. 

My thanks to Dawn Burnett producer of The Words Podcast and Simon and Schuster for an early proof copy of this compelling book.

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