Saturday, April 25, 2009

"Figures in Silk"

Vanora Bennett is the author of two works of nonfiction, Crying Wolf: The Return of War to Chechnya and The Taste of Dreams: An Obsession with Russia and Caviar. In the US, her novel Portrait of an Unknown Woman was selected as one of Book Sense's ten recommended Picks for April 2007 and was recognized by Barnes & Noble's Discover Great New Writers program.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to her latest novel, Figures in Silk, and reported the following:
It's not the main thrust of the story that develops later, but page 69 of my novel, Figures in Silk, is representative of the rest of the book in that it shows my heroine Isabel tapping into her inner ambition for the first time, and making a hesitant career move.

Her young husband has just died. Her well-off if very conventional father wants her home in his house again - a counter back in the counting-house, ready for a profitable remarriage. But Isabel has just begun to realise that her prickly, hostile mother-in-law, Alice Claver, has knowledge that she wants to acquire too. As a rich widow, Alice Claver is one of the rare women in the medieval City of London with the financial independence and technical expertise to trade in the fifteenth century's greatest retail luxury - silk. And Isabel, like Alice, feels the pull of the silk. On page 69, she's breaking it to her father that she's struck a bargain with Alice Claver.The older woman will let her stay on in the Claver household as an apprentice silkwoman, and learn the business from scratch, dawn starts, rough hands and all.

"But I want to stay with her," Isabel said wearily. The conversation seemed to have gone on for hours.

"But you can't," her father said again. "Not as an apprentice."

She knew his style of argument. It was merchant style: repeating himself, without raising his voice, until the sheer boredom of the discussion wore whoever he was arguing with into reluctant agreement. He called it consensus. And what he'd been saying today was: You could marry anyone in the City with your dower. And: No daughter of mine need ever work; I've given you the best opportunities in life; what will people think? And: Just look at your hands, lady's hands; think what they're going to look like once your new (eyebrows raised, shoulders raised) mistress gets you throwing raw silk or dunking yarn into pots of dye.

There's more of the stubborn merchant in Isabel than she's realised until now. Like her anxious father, she won't give in. Still full of the pain of recent widowhood, she doesn't realise yet that love will all too soon come back into her life. What she does already know is that the choice she's making now will govern her future - and that she wants to become the kind of woman who is ruled, not by her heart, but by her head.
Browse inside Figures in Silk, and learn more about the author and her work at Vanora Bennett's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue