God’s Children by Mabli Roberts Gwasg Honno Press April 11th 2019
‘Kate Marsden: nurse, intrepid adventurer, saviour of the lepers or devious manipulator, immoral and dishonest?’
As she lies on her deathbed visited by the ghosts of her past, who should we believe, Kate or those who accuse her of duplicity? Memory is a fickle thing: recollections may be frozen in time or distorted by the mirror of wishful thinking. Kate’s own story is one of incredible achievements, illicit love affairs and desperate longing; those of her accusers paint a very different portrait – of a woman determined on fame and fortune.
The reader navigates a narrative as fractured as the Siberian ice Kate crosses in search of a cure for leprosy, and as beautiful as Rose, her lost love, as the full picture emerges of a life lived when women were not expected to break the mould.
I didn’t realise until I reached the end of the novel and read the afterword that God’s Children was actually based on a true story, and what a story it was.
It was fascinating to read of Nurse Kate Marsden, her life and her mission, a story of a strong and thoroughly modern woman of her time, perhaps misunderstood in a world where women definitely took second place.
I wasn’t quite sure that I actually liked her, as her distinctive voice alternated between someone who strove to help ‘her lepers’ to an often ruthless woman in pursuit of self aggrandisement. Those mixed feelings were reinforced by Roberts quite clever structure, as she darted from one place to another, and from past to present, Marsden’s background as varied as the many voices she employed. It could so easily have backfired on Roberts, interrupted the flow of the narrative but her skilful handling ensured that it flowed smoothly. In some ways it perfectly portrayed Kate’s mind as she lay in her hospital bed, her thoughts wondering as she remembered, as the ghosts of her past visited and challenged her own memories and actions.
I don’t think I ever made up my mind about her intentions, what drove her, but what I knew for sure was that I loved Roberts narrative. I was particularly struck by her descriptions of Siberia, of the cold, of the desolate and varied landscape, of the challenges faced by herself and her companions. It provided a real contrast with the splendour of the Russian Court, the streets of Paris, New York and New Zealand.
Themes of religion, of Marsden’s devotion to God, pervaded the pages, as it drove her to succeed in her mission, almost contrary to her sexuality and how she was perceived within society. It made her stand out, an anomaly and you had to admire her, whilst at the same time questioning if she used it as a means to an end.
Whatever Kate Marsden was, and what she did or didn’t do, you had to admit that she was one hell of a woman, strong, brave, fierce and independent. Roberts brilliantly brought Marsden’s story to life and to the attention of this rather ignorant reader and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I would like to thank Honno for a copy of God’s Children to read and review and to Emma Welton of Damp Pebbles Tours for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour
About the author
Mabli Roberts lives in a wild, mountainous part of Wales. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University and has worked as a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Wales, Newport. Most of her inspiration comes from her love of history and from long walks in the timeless landscape around her.
Mabli also writes as Paula Brackston, PJ Brackston and PJ Davy. Nutters was shortlisted for the Mind Book Award and The Witch’s Daughter was a New York Times bestseller.
Her work has been translated into five languages and is sold around the world.
You can find out more about her books on her website www.paulabrackston.com, her Author’s Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/worldofpaulabrackston/ and YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/paulabrackstonbooks as well as the God’s Children Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Gods-Children-1476228589147399/