Disclaimer: This review was originally posted on Puddles Of Avni back in summer 2016. That blog is no longer live, but I have since re-read the novel and have tweaked my original review slightly!

I live for books that linger in my mind long after they've been closed and put back on my shelf. When I first picked up 'Misfortune', I'll admit I was sceptical as to how much I'd enjoy it. The print is pretty tiny, and the blurb makes it sound whimsical and interesting enough, but there's no way of really telling how engrossing the world inside the pages is going to be. I realised at around 50 pages in that this was going to be a book to remember, and by the end of the first part I had already written 3 pages of notes. I think it’s extremely difficult for anyone to read 'Misfortune' and not be touched in some way, and I hope that by talking about some of its key themes I can do it justice and inspire at least someone to pick it up and read it.

Info To Note:

  • Price:£7.99 in paper back (note that as gorgeous as the vintage edition is, the print is tiny but the extra bits at the end make it so worth it). The Kindle Edition is £4.35.
  • Pages: 577
  • Published: 2006
  • Blurb (taken from the book itself): Lord Loveall, heretofore heirless lord of the sprawling Love Hall, is the richest man in England. He arrives home one morning with a most unusual package – a baby that he presents as the inheritor to the family name and fortune. In honor of his beloved sister, who died young, Loveall names the baby Rose. The household, relieved at the continuation of the Loveall line, ignores the fact that this Rose has a thorn…that she is, in fact, a boy. Rose grows up with the two servant children who are her only friends, blissfully unaware of her own gender, casually hitting boundaries at Love Hall’s yearly cricket game and learning to shave even as she continues to wear more and more elaborate dresses. Until, of course, the fateful day when Rose’s world comes crashing down around her, and she is banished from Love Hall as an impostor by those who would claim her place as heir.
  • Wesley Stace’s Website – a good thing to peruse for info on him, his other works, and a bit more info on the history behind the novel and Love Hall.

The way this novel is written is incredible – Stace is an amazing writer and the composition of his words is nothing short of beautiful. I felt entranced from the beginning, and I found that my focus was kept the whole way through to the end. The construction of the novel is intelligent and effective; over 577 pages I never once felt the novel was boring or veering off onto unnecessary tangents. Stace keeps readers wanting more – not just by the way the plot unfolds or the antics of the captivating characters - but by the often puzzling narrative voice that talks us through the various events.
At it’s heart, the story is one about family and human nature, and how the two can cross over in quite explosive and heart breaking ways. It is also very much about the journey you embark on through life as you start to truly know yourself, and exploring every element that makes you who you are. Through so many subtle and not so subtle incidents, Stace demonstrates the fact that this sense of self is something humans consciously and subconsciously explore from a very young age, and continue to do so their entire lives.

I did find the ending to be a little too neat and tidy, but it almost doesn’t mater because of the important journey that Rose undertakes across the novel. The mysterious tone surrounding her life and the true reality of her situation never fully leaves, and I think that’s a nice touch despite the satisfying end to her story. There are some incredibly dark passages that Stace delivers in haunting style, but there is also a vast amount of delicate humour – some of which genuinely made me laugh out loud – and so it is difficult to come to the end of the reading experience and not feel like you’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster!

Transgenderism, Feelings and Gender Roles 

For me, these themes were dealt with so beautifully I still find it hard to describe exactly how I felt after I finished the novel. Rose is presented as a very innocent little girl, despite those around her knowing her real gender. Her two companions growing up are a brother and sister duo, and whilst she identifies herself as being the same as the girl, there are certain feelings and behavioural understandings she has which align her with the boy – although she doesn’t understand why. Initially, these are presented as seemingly insignificant observations, but as soon as the truth begins to surface it becomes extremely confusing and painful for Rose, and as a reader you experience it alongside her. The turmoil she feels in learning how to be a boy, despite only feeling comfortable when wearing elaborate dresses, is immense, and a huge part of Rose’s journey is exploring what her true self is. She explores how things like clothes and shaving and make-up are elements of genderism, and consequently addresses the part gender plays in how we construct an image of ourselves. It makes for fascinating reading, and conjures up all sorts of questions and thoughts in your mind. As I mentioned, there are some incredibly dark places that Rose visits in her mind and in her life, particularly when she is banished, but these help her to gain a deeper understanding of herself which is so necessary given the lack of answers she initially has.

Rape & Sexual Themes 

It’s amazing how sensitively Stace manages to handle the topic of sex in Misfortune. For Rose, puberty is far more complicated than it is for any ordinary adolescent; developing feelings, exploring her body and trying to make sense of something that wasn’t spoken about proves to be a difficult balance. When she has a disturbing encounter with an uncle, the negative connotations attached to sex emerge, and she has a troubling relationship with it from then on. Again, it’s fascinating to read, although it does become quite emotional, so if you’re sensitive to things like that then be slightly wary of it. Saying that, Stace isn’t particularly graphic or crude about anything – which in some ways makes it even more powerful to read.

I hope you found this review interesting and got something from it - even if it has simply made you consider the questions surrounding gender roles within our own concepts of ourselves more carefully. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Have you read 'Misfortune'? If so, what did you take from it? And if not, has this made you want to read it, or has it put you off?

Published by Avni Bhagwan