Review: Talland House by Maggie Humm

Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: She Writes Press
Pages: 256
Publication Date: 18 August, 2020
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 bookmarks


Set between 1900 and 1919 in picturesque Cornwall and war-blasted London, Talland House takes Lily Briscoe from the pages of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and tells her story outside the confines of Woolf’s novel — as a student in 1900, as a young woman becoming a professional artist, her loves and friendships, mourning her dead mother, and solving the mystery of her friend Mrs. Ramsay’s sudden death.

An engaging and original work of romantic historical fiction and the debut novel from renowned international Virginia Woolf scholar and Emeritus Professor at the University of East London Maggie Humm, Talland House is both a story for our present time, exploring the tensions women experience between their public careers and private loves, and a story of a specific moment in our past — a time when women first began to be truly independent.

My Review:

Talland House takes inspiration from Virginia Woolf’s, To the Lighthouse. You will also be surprised to know that Talland House is also where Woolf spent 13 summers with her family.

Centering on Lily Briscoe’s coming-of-age and offering a plausible resolution to one of the twenty-first century’s greatest literary mysteries – the sudden death of Mrs. Ramsay – Talland House partly follows the time structure of Woolf’s novel, but weaves into this frame a prequel, and many fictions of Woolf’s life including her family, the artists and friends she knew, and Lily’s fictionalized life and career outside of the novel.

The book was a beautiful description of the town of St. Ives and the life of the protagonist Lily. The entire story revolved around Lily, Mrs, Ramsay and of course the Talland House. It’s  a very slow paced book going back and forth between the present day life of Lily and the of her time before and during the first World War.

Many a times you may almost feel like Lily thinks too much but I feel that is an apt depiction of her artistic mind. The character development of Lily is also appropriate to a time when women in the western world were trying to become independent beings.

The book will take you through her journey as a student in Paris, to a student in St. Ives where she first meets Mrs. Ramsay, to journey of coming back to Talland House as an artist, as a suffragette, as a nurse during World War 2 and finally having her artwork being displayed at the Royal Art Gallery being almost lost and clueless through it all.

The story carries with itself the mystery of Mrs. Ramsay’s death and Lily’s determination to complete her portrait as well as figure out the reason behind he sudden untimely death which gives you something to look forward to. If you have an interest in art, you’ll also be in awe of the artistic descriptions in the book because I sure was.

I rate the book 3.5 bookmarks out of 5 because of the slow pacing of the book, of course the book has instigated and even inspired me to look into more of Virginia Woolf’s works, but this title itself could’ve been slightly fast paced as some details felt unnecessary.

About the Author:

Maggie Humm is an Emeritus Professor, University of East London, UK. An international Virginia Woolf scholar and the author/editor of fourteen books (the last three focused on Woolf and the arts), Humm is a former Co-Chair of the British Women’s Studies Association, founded the first full-time undergraduate UK Women’s Studies degree, and was a judge of the Fawcett Society book prize. To transition to creative writing, she earned a diploma in Creative Writing from the prestigious programme launched by the University of East Anglia in partnership with the Guardian, followed by mentorship with The Literary Consultancy. She contributed a programme note for the ‘Woolf Works’ ballet at the Royal Opera House and a catalogue essay for the major Woolf exhibition at the Tate St Ives, as well as speaking there at a conference.

Talland House is Humm’s debut novel. Shortlisted for the Impress and Fresher Fiction prizes (as Who Killed Mrs. Ramsay?) and Retreat West and Eyelands prizes, and longlisted for the Lucy Cavendish and Historical Writers’ Association / Sharpe Books Unpublished Novel Awards, Talland House is set for official release in August 2020 with She Writes Press.

She lives in London and is currently writing Rodin’s Mistress about the tumultuous love affair of the artists Gwen John and Rodin

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