... a startling, compelling historical debut novel from Sara Collins that should be on top of your vacation reading pile ... Collins possesses too much talent and righteous indignation to allow Frannie’s story to fizzle into a poor-girl-of-the-streets fable ... Everything that happens, happens because people of color are not seen as fully human. If Frannie has any power, if Olaudah has any power, it’s due not to their actual gifts — which are considerable — but because they’re pawns for those in charge. Collins’s book is a pointed reminder of the harm unleashed on everyone when human beings are given second-class status.
... the old gothic soaks The Confessions of Frannie Langton so richly that fumes come off it ... That’s why 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.
... impressive ... a bold and timely reinvention of the classic gothic novel: this is a story unashamedly immersed in its literary heritage ... Collins’s writing throughout has a visceral and immediate quality, immersing the reader both in period detail and in Frannie’s experiences ... 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.
At its worst, Collins' style is hampered by repetition, excess, and meaningless aphorism. At its best, it is full-hearted and visceral ... The question of who killed the Benhams provides the ostensible narrative tension of the book, and the love story its heart. Neither is wholly convincing: Marguerite is hazy and bloodless, and the mystery is obscured as incest, prostitution, addiction, secret pregnancy, and other twists are added to the narrative tangle. The true, vital energy of this book comes from its preoccupation with knowledge, science, and writing, both for their inherent values and because they are proxies for power ... The book's most deeply felt battle is over that magic. Who has knowledge, who keeps it, who spreads it, and who gets the credit. In its best moments, The Confessions of Frannie Langton is less a romance or a mystery than a counter-curse.
First-time novelist Sara Collins crafted her debut as a tribute to Jane Eyre, 'but with a protagonist who would have lived outside the margins set by history.' In that regard, Collins has succeeded admirably, resulting in a novel that reads like a classic gothic romance.
... 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 ... Snippets of the trial and testimony from other servants are deftly weaved into the plot, with convincing legal detail and good courtroom momentum. Less successful are the diary entries of George Benham, which do not reveal enough to earn their place, and side stories involving other characters of race who are romantically linked to Mrs Benham ... issues with length aside, Collins has achieved her aim in a beguiling story with strong feminist overtones.
Some of the loose ends [Collins] ostentatiously dangles are so relentlessly hinted at throughout later chapters that it muffles the impact of their resolutions in the closing scenes. These technical flaws are less important than the ferociously unsentimental portrait Collins paints of enslavement both external and internal, voiced by an agonizingly conflicted narrator ... Some readers will be troubled by Collins’ portrait of an enslaved woman consumed with guilt that is not entirely unearned ... not a cheerful book, but its scathing honesty and rivetingly complicated narrator demand attention.
It’s truly remarkable that The Confessions of Frannie Langton is Sara Collins’ first novel. The plotting is so assured, the characters so layered, the prose so searing ... Narrator Frannie’s clear eye never shies away from the sordid or painful as she unfolds a story from the margins of society, giving voice to personal truths the history books penned by white men rarely record ... In Frannie, with her crisp and darkly beautiful prose, Collins has created a narrator who is both unflinchingly honest and vibrant. She’s a fully-realized woman with dreams and desires and flaws ... Despite everything, her voice can be kind, and wry, and poetic as she recounts everything that led to her trial ... Collins’ Confessions ring with such truth and humanity that I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest to see this on a college course’s required reading list in years to come.
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 ... 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 large, lavish and gutsy, a skilled and intoxicating mash-up of slave narrative, gothic romance, whodunit and legal thriller. Collins—who lives in London and is of Jamaican descent—pays careful attention to historical detail while at the same time ensuring her reader stays immersed in her emotional drama and invested in her full-bodied characters.
Sara Collins’s debut novel does bear a passing resemblance to [Alias Grace]—most notably a narrator with a magnetic, mercurial pull on your emotion and attention and an Atwood-ian bite to its social commentary—this is a book that owes far more to the literature of its early-19th century setting. It’s less about inspiration, however, and more interrogation: Collins declares her intent to flip these texts on their heads up front, including the names of the books and genres she’s here to rethink within the text. It’s both a treasure hunt and a treasure map, full of Easter eggs for those who might care, and offering subtle hints as to how it all might end for those with eyes to see ... Frances is as layered in her personhood as Collins’s writing is saturated in intelligent insights into what might seem a familiar tale. Which is to say: very.So no, this is not a murder mystery, although we do, at the very end, find out how George and Margeurite Benham really did die, or at least Frances’s account of the events. What it is, instead, is a beautifully crafted piece of historical fiction, one that fulfills all the best promise of that genre, in that it renders the past so vividly that it feels as urgent as the present.
Collins’ debut novel administers a bold and vibrant jolt to both the gothic and historical fiction genres, embracing racial and sexual subtexts that couldn’t or wouldn’t have been imagined by its long-ago practitioners. Her evocations of early-19th-century London and antebellum Jamaica are vivid and, at times, sensuously graphic. Most of all, she has created in her title character a complex, melancholy, and trenchantly observant protagonist; too conflicted in motivation, perhaps, to be considered a heroine but as dynamic and compelling as any character conceived by a Brontë sister ... Collins invokes both Voltaire and Defoe here, and she forges an unlikely but sadly harmonic connection with both these enlightenment heroes in her gripping, groundbreaking debut.
... a powerful portrayal of the horrors of slavery and the injustices of British society’s treatment of former slaves in the early 1800s ... This is both a highly suspenseful murder mystery and a vivid historical novel, but best of all is the depiction of Frannie, a complex and unforgettable protagonist. This is a great book sure to find a wide—and deserved—audience.