First Novel Award
Costa Book Awards Judges: “Rich and compelling – an historical page-turner with stunning prose.”
There is an impressive smorgasbord of themes at play: race, gender, class, sexuality, depression, science, education and the psychological effects of servitude. In Frannie Langton, Collins has created a truly memorable heroine and written a compelling gothic novel for our times.
Educated by her previous master but also forced to participate in horrific experiments on other slaves, Frannie was brought to England and given to the Benhams. She falls under the spell of the troubled, neurotic Marguerite, who believes that women have a moral imperative to think about their lives. Frannie’s experiences, written in vivid, at times hectic, prose, reveal a brutal world. The plot has a Gothic edge with a melodramatic overtone, but the racism and cruelty are all too real.
...I love this book. Collins hasn’t just written an authentic gothic novel: she rugby tackles the notion of the saintly girl who emerges from suffering rather improved by it. But nor does Collins subscribe to the modern style of the genre, Hill’s soft rustle of old-fashioned garments. She is entirely her own writer. Between her historical research, Frannie’s voice and a plot that never slows to a walk, the novel pulls the gothic into new territory and links it back to its origins. It points at the reader and asks whether it might be a sign of atrocious privilege to enjoy a genre devoted to the grotesque – especially when the grotesquerie comes from things that might plausibly have happened in the name of science and sugar money.
There is lots to love in this impressive debut. Sara Collins is interesting on race and power. Frannie is an unforgettable character with a delicious, wicked turn of phrase. Jamaica is “sun-addled. Heat like biting ants. Light like blades.” The distance between the two islands is stark: “An English winter is a season of dying things, of long waiting, of wool-thick skies.” In her introduction, Collins talks of a childhood in Jamaica reading English classics and wanting to place a Jamaican slave girl at the heart of a gothic romance. This novel is a self-conscious homage to Moll Flanders and Jane Eyre, with lots of gothic tropes thrown in. The plot is a bit of a muddle as a result. Collins is a star in the making; I would love to see her find a story as dazzlingly original as her voice.
The Confessions of Frannie Langton is in a similar vein, an otherwise charming debut that doesn’t quite earn its length. An original and evocative tale with elements of Gothic fiction, its story becomes unwieldly in later parts and the mysteries that are so skilfully established in the early chapters are buried under the weight of too much action. There is, however, plenty to recommend in Collins’ writing: vivid characters, lush settings, a captivating heroine and an intelligent, unsentimental analysis of her tragic history.
The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins... is a bold attempt to place a black heroine at the heart of a gothic romance. Frannie Langton is a slave from Jamaica, educated by her master for his own selfish reasons and forced to help him in increasingly cruel and deranged experiments on his other slaves. Brought to England, she works as maid for Mr and Mrs Benham, and embarks on a passionate affair with her mistress before tragedy strikes. Told as Frannie’s memoir from Newgate prison, Collins’s debut novel provides a powerful story, although the central relationship between maid and mistress does not entirely ring true.