Precious Bane by Mary Gladys Meredith Webb
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Mary Webb uses words to paint her native Shropshire countryside in glorious technicolour. This is quite simply a beautiful yet at times hauntingly melancholic story of a young girl growing up in rural poverty in the early 18th century, where 'sin eaters' are still employed at funerals. The heroine has a harelip. Her 'deformity' is attributed to a hare running across her mother's path when she was pregnant. Although not an outcast, her facial disfigurement does set Prue apart from her peers, yet an inner strength and pureness means that she is not without friends or love. In direct contrast to Prue's goodness is her brother Gideon, who loves only money, and will sacrifice his own mother and wife to build his fortune. Prue is the narrator of the book, and Mary Webb effortlessly allows her readers to emphasise with this young girl who can only watch as her brother sets about destroying all that she loves.
Prue's best hope of escape lies with a nomadic weaver, Kester. But Prue doubts that even a man who seems to share her own joy and contentment merely to experience life can accept her.
Living here in London in the 21st century, I'm willing to believe that people living in the early 18th Century in rural Shropshire really did act and speak as Mary Webb's characters do, and several of them will remain with you long after you have finished this book.
Reading this book is like taking a long relaxing walk in the countryside, I highly recommend it.
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