The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier

The last runaway

Having thoroughly enjoyed ‘Remarkable Creatures’ by Tracy Chevalier I was pleased that ‘The Last Runaway’ was chosen for my U3A reading group for July. I was not disappointed.

In the mid 1850s, Quaker Honor Bright sets out for America with her sister Grace who is to be married to Adam Cox, a pioneer already in Ohio. Having been jilted, Honor is looking forward to a new life, but on arrival in America, events don’t go according to plan.

I loved this book. Firstly, there is a well crafted plot that leads the reader through Honor’s trials and successes and culminates in a somewhat surprising but perfectly wrought ending. The third person narrative about Honor is underpinned by first person letters, usually though not always written by her, so that there is real pace and variety to the story.

Secondly, the characters are distinct and clearly depicted. I have to confess to preferring the villain Donovan amongst the men. Each person is given an identity so complete as to make them human and realistic for the reader. I found I was thinking about them when I wasn’t reading the book.

The theme of slavery in America is sympathetically explored without preaching to the reader, thereby conveying its message all the more eloquently. The attention to historical detail is wonderful, being precise and accessible through the narrative. Having studied slavery and emancipation in the USA at university, I thought Tracy Chevalier captured the era perfectly, managing to be both moving and historically accurate at the same time.

The quality of writing is quite lyrical. The descriptions of a latter day mindfulness, the seasons and nature, and the colours and fabrics in the quilting build a vibrant and vivid visual image so that the reader can see the settings in their mind’s eye.

I would thoroughly recommend Tracy Chevalier’s ‘The Last Runaway’ to those who enjoy a good story, but like their fiction based intelligently in fact. I loved it.

‘The Last Runaway’ was published by Harper in August 2013.

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