Sunday, 12 March 2017

Following Ophelia - Sophia Bennett

When Mary Adams sees Millais’ depiction of the tragic Ophelia, a whole new world opens up for her. Determined to find out more about the beautiful girl in the painting, she hears the story of Lizzie Siddal – a girl from a modest background, not unlike her own, who has found fame and fortune against the odds. Mary sets out to become a Pre-Raphaelite muse and reinvents herself as Persephone Lavelle. But as she fights her way to become the new face of London’s glittering art scene, ‘Persephone’ ends up mingling with some of the city’s more nefarious types and is forced to make some impossible choices.

Will Persephone be forced to betray those she loves, and even the person she once was, if she is to achieve her dreams?

I finished Following Ophelia nearly three weeks ago and it's still in my head. I don't often read YA historical fiction, mostly because I can never find anything I like but Following Ophelia by the wonderful Sophia Bennett will be a tough act to follow. I completely and utterly fell in love with Mary, the other characters, the artists, the setting and the history. In short, it was quite simply the perfect book for me to read! 

There's long been an association between art and literature, from Millais and Ophelia to Sophia and Ophelia and Sophia has tapped into this perfectly with such a deft touch. The story may be historical but it reads with a contemporary tone and could easily be talking about today.

Mary is thrown into a completely different way of life when she becomes a servant in a large house in London after working as a seamstress, her employers are both progressive and closed off at the same time. Philip Aitken is wonderful in that he encourages Mary's interest in art and history without wondering why. Meeting artists and other members of the Brotherhood Mary is immersed in yet another completely different world when she meets artist Felix Dawson, deciding that she too can be like Lizzie Siddal and also starting to fall in love for the first time too. Drawn into what could be a dangerous game for a servant at the time Mary becomes Persephone Lavelle, living the life of an artist's model and making the most of the freedom this brings her.

Unfortunately, all that glitters is not gold and the harsh realities of being a servant in the nineteenth century soon catch up to our intrepid heroine. Her cousin Harriet, also a servant for a family nearby discovers that promises made are not always promises kept and Mary is cut off from everything (and everyone) that she has come to love. 

Mary is an amazing character, full of life and wanting more for herself than was probably reasonable to expect at the time, not afraid to stand up for herself or others if they need help but powerless to stop both people and events that overtake all the glorious things she has done and seen. Sophia Bennett has written an intriguing glimpse into the world of the Pre-Raphaelites, mixing both fact and fiction to create a page-turning story of a servant and her journey to becoming something more. 

I'm still not entirely sure what it was that made me fall so completely in love with Following Ophelia, Mary, Felix and the amazing group of artists and debutantes that she becomes Persephone with. It could be my own obsession with that time period and the Pre-Raphaelites or that fact that Sophia has managed to take a significant period of time in the art world and make it sound contemporary. Either way, I cannot wait to for the sequel which was very recently announced, Unveiling Venus (love that title and the cover I've seen! Can I read it now please?) and I'm off to buy a paperback copy of the book as the story of Following Ophelia is a keeper.

Following Ophelia - Sophia Bennett
ISBN - 9781847158109
Publisher - Stripes Books
Release date - March 9th, 2017

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