I have been following Sam Baker on Twitter since the launch of her website The Pool, a site which ‘makes interesting, inspiring, original content for busy women’. It was also on Twitter where I found out she was publishing a crime fiction novel in January 2016 entitled The Woman Who Ran with the tagline ‘How do you escape what you can’t remember?’. As you can imagine, it sounds right up my alley, so I asked Sam for a review copy and she kindly put me in contact with her team at Harper Collins and I was finally sent a review copy. Thanks to Sam and Felicity Denham for sending me the best book I have read in 2016.
Meet Helen Graham, a young woman who has recently moved to Wildfell Hall, sparking all kind of rumours about her. Is she a French actress come there to die? That happens to be the most wide-spread idea at the nearest town, where journalist Gil Markham has recently retired at 60 from his post at the local newspaper. But, who is really mademoiselle Graham and why is she living in a decaying mansion all by herself?
Sam Baker does a terrific job updating Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall with contemporary and relatable characters. By keeping the names and the setting, we are given the opportunity to appreciate the original novel and its power to move and interest audiences two centuries apart. Baker’s Helen has a profession, a personal life, and participates in all the modern-world issues we would expect from a 21st character, but keeping Brontë’s connection to the land. The Dales emerge as a character that will interact with Helen and Giles, keeping with the Romantic idea of Nature as a force on itself. However, technology and social media play a key role in the narration, proving Baker’s skills at successfully updating a classic story-line for modern audiences.
Because I want to keep this review free of any kind of spoilers, I will only say that Helen Graham is the kind of character that I love spending time with. She is hard-working, strong, she stood for herself, and she is a mystery on herself: The Woman Who Ran is the perfect example of character study in crime fiction. I finished the book more than a month ago and she has remained with me. As you read, you get to know a little bit more about her, and Baker did an outstanding job at inscribing contemporary gender issues and struggles. I was also reminded of the time-consuming luxury object that my iPhone is, and how it was both improved and troubled our relationship with time, leisure, and other people. So much so, that I took a great pleasure at taking notes by hand on my Moleskine notebook, while I read.
The Woman Who Ran is contemporary crime fiction and English classic literature at the same time. It is also a mystery and a magnificent character study. The Woman Who Ran is the tale of a female character who could belong in the in the 19th or the 21st century. But above all, it is the story of a woman who belongs in high-quality literature written by women.