The Confessions of Frannie Langton

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 15 Aug 2019

Member Reviews

Fantastically written narrative. Disturbing and gripping. Talented writer who compels the reader to bear witness to terrible acts against humanity, the grotesque nature of slavery and a society that is complicit in torture under the remit of knowledge.
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The Confessions of Frannie Langton is a masterful debut.

There are many strands; coming-of-age tale, historical fiction, gothic novel, crime narrative, love story. Collins depicts a young woman who having spent her early life enslaved on a Jamaican plantation, is 'given' to a London gentleman and forms a bond with the lady of the house. Frannie takes control by using her voice to relate her own story, refusing to be silenced or misrepresented by the people who have enslaved, abused and imprisoned her.

Recommended if you enjoyed Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace and/or Laura Purcell's The Corset.
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I was so excited to read this - I really was, especially as I love historic fiction. However I really struggled with it - so much so that I actually gave up on it. I just did not enjoy it. Sorry!
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A servant who was a slave in Jamaica is accused of the  brutal murder of her employer and his wife.. The character of Frannie Langton leaps from the page in this historical thriller which has the varying settings of Georgian London and a sugar plantation in Jamaica.  

Did she do it? If she did why? In this sense it it a page turner and kept me absorbed to the last page.

The narrative structure weaves together the past and present in a rich way - just like the beautiful embroidery  on the wonderful cover.

Frannie is soon plucked from the fields to be a scientific assistant to the "massa" and learns to read. This sets her apart from other slaves. however her new life isn't all about privilege as her new role isn't all that it seems.

When she is taken to London she is "disowned" and ends up as a servant in another man's house. There she becomes an "abigail" to the frail mistress.who to escape her own abuse has turned to opium

Sara Collins explores  race and women's roles. In exploring race she reveals different layers. There is an abolitionist who wants to know all the "gory" details. He wants to possess  Frannie through owning her story in some sort of vicarious way. Women are not allowed to be educated but onlybe wives, whores and servants. It's significant that Frannie is fond of the book Moll Flanders who was also trapped within some of these roles.. Despite her education is Frannie able to escape from this.? Collins introduces the character of Laddie to widen out the race theme exploration as he is a black man within the same context. I guess Book Groups will discuss the two of them in a compare and contrast way.

The evil housekeeper Linux who testifies against Frannie is a woman warped by perceived power who recalls Mrs Danvers. Of course there are many literary echoes like Wide Sargasso Sea, and Sara Collins cites the Brontes as major influences.

Like Sarah Water's Fingersmith  there is clever plotting.  Will Frannie be convicted of the murder? Who are the mysterious babies mentioned ? 
Frannie herself is a complex character who bubbles with ( righteous?) anger. She is not portrayed as a passive, vapid, suffering victim. The reader is not always sure how they would react to her if she were real.

Collins also explores themes of truth and  memory that transcend race and gender.

"What would you want to be remembered for? If you had one last page and one last hour, what would you write?"

I thoroughly enjoyed this complex historical thriller with its exploration of many themes that resonate still with us today.

A stunning book as rich at the embroidery on its cover illustration.
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This was a book i had to work hard at to read, in the end it got the better of me - and there's not many books that do that.  Not for me I'm afraid.
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Unfortunately I just did not enjoy this book. I found the plot unsettling and it was a real struggle to finish it. It was a disappointing read to be honest.
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At times sickening and heart-breaking, this gothic tale is perhaps a little slow to get going but is an impressive debut.
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I was sent an uncorrected advance proof copy of The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins to read and review by NetGalley.
This novel is set in 1826 and is told in the first person by protagonist Frannie Langton, a mulatto (white father, black mother) girl from Jamaica who finds herself on trial at the Old Bailey in England accused of murdering her employers.  The story weaves in and out of Frannie’s memories as she tries to make sense of her life and what has happened, much of which is fogged by her use of Laudanum.  This is well written, evocative novel that captures the essence of the 1800s.  A great read for those who are partial to an historical novel with a touch of sass!
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Did Frances Langton commit murder?

It is 1826 and Frances Langton, also known as Ebony Fran and more recently the Mulatta Murderess, is on trial in London for the murder of her master and mistress. Somewhere in her confused mind, she knows that she could not have committed this atrocity. As Frances is shoved into the dock, she cannot but notice the items laid out on the bench – evidence against her. Then she sees it, and her innards twist into a knot as tight as the thing curled up in the jar. 

Any crime has two stories – the story of the crime and the story of the prisoner. Frances Langton is given a fresh quill and instructions to explain herself. Instead, she writes her memoirs in an attempt to bring clarity. All Frannie remembers of that night is waking under the suffocation of blood-soaked bedsheets, her mistress lying dead beside her. Perhaps if she starts from the very beginning, in Paradise, and follows the thread of her life, she can make sense of it all. Recollections of the Langton sugar plantation in Jamaica bring memories of Pibbah and Miss-Bella. They were the three women of Paradise. But Paradise was a place of injustice, and Frances knows it is time to confess to the inhumanity committed for Langton’s masterpiece. What she would have done for it to go up in flames, along with the six-hundred and twenty-seven skulls. She had noted each skull in the ledger and to what purpose? Could evidence ever exist that as blackness was passed through sperm, so was the lack of intellect, morality and ambition? And then London, where she thought she would be Langton’s girl, his maid even. Instead, she was tossed aside as compensation for a favour.  

The content of this novel is a representation of the injustice of inhumanity in the name of science. Due to the dense thematic quality and the intriguing storyline, I found this a compelling read. Collins writes fluidly, and her imagery and manipulation of language bring the story alive. A superbly written novel that touches on more than one element of the human condition and depicts the suffering of the powerless at the hands of the powerful.


Breakaway Reviewers received a copy of the book to review
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Beautiful story of love and freedom, but also addiction and pain.

Life is complicated, and Frannie Langton's life is no different. Born a slave in Jamaica, she's forced to take part in her master's experiments on bodies, then brought to London and offered to a different man. But this new master has a wife, who will introduce Frannie to both pleasure and drug - in a passionate and tumultuous relationship. Until the day she dies... Did Frannie murder her mistress?

The book is an indictment of slavery, with the question of whether or not the 'Negroes' are human beings. It's also the downward spiral of a woman restricted by her condition and by the society, who never stood a chance.
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What a debut! A fascinating tale of Frances Langton, a mulatta, born in Jamaica and then taken to England by her 'owner' and left with a family and finally tried in the Old Bailey for the murder of the husband and wife of the house. The writing tells the story in pictures because the descriptions are so well portrayed; the characters, good and bad, are fascinating; Frannie's experiences are many and obviously much of the story draws on actual instances from the 1800s. Frannie is used and abused and deserves our sympathy.
Many thanks to Netgalley/Sara Collins/Penguin Books for a digital copy of this title. All opinions expressed are my own.
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The title character is a half coloured child of the plantations.  Her education and attractive looks make her an oddity in Georgian London.

The early part of the book is quite interesting, but as the tale gets darker and darker it becomes very depressing, no doubt as a result of the author’s skill.  One feels one is trudging though a Laudenam induced fog and becoming as begrimed as Frannie’s gown in the damp, grey streets she roams.

The only likeable character is a housemaid Prue who tries to warn Frannie when her actions are making her future very precarious.  This is not heeded and  events deteriorate to a very dark place.

Not a book I would have chosen had I known the path it would take, but it is very powerful writing
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On trial for murder Frances Langton is called the Mulatta Murderess by the popular press and the whole of London is crying to see her hang.  She has supposedly killed her master and mistress in the home but is that the whole truth?  Born a slave in Jamaica Frannie is taught to read by her master and helps him conduct vile experiments in the name of science.  Brought to England Frannie is placed with My Benham and his beautiful wife, Marguerite.  The Benham house is full of secrets and so is Frances' mind and love is never far from hate for those born into slavery.
This is a terrific book.  It manages to weave together several big themes - slavery, science, the plight of women in the early nineteenth century - and yet still be a passionate and moving tale with a little magic in it.  Frances' confession builds upon Rousseau's ideas alluded to early on and joins with a little Defoe and Richardson.  The horrors of plantation life are vivid and the horrors of Langton's experiments no less so despite not being described in detail.
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Content-wise Sara Collins’s The Confessions of Frannie Langton has just about everything — drama, passion, violence, murder, opiates, illegitimacy, mixed-race relationships (a big no-no in nineteenth century London), lesbianism (ditto) and more. It was a whirling dervish of a journey from Jamaican slave plantations to Newgate Gaol via luxurious London mansions and the whorehouse. 

If I had to pick a single theme from it I couldn’t. It touches on education, on racism, on scientific ethics, on forbidden love, on the oppression of women regardless of their race or class, and on more besides. It’s rich and it’s complex. In summary, the story is that of Frances Langton, mulatto maid to a London couple, on trial for their murder, and the story unwinds through her confession, the story of her life. Frances can’t defend herself because she has no memory of the events that led up to the crime and it’s only by unpicking her life that she comes to understand.

I feel in my head that this is a very good book, but somehow my heart just didn’t buy into it. Perhaps it’s because it’s so complex that it becomes bewildering, or perhaps it’s because I found the central part of it slow. And while the characters were all brilliantly drawn — no, exposed — I didn’t find any of them likeable. Even Frannie herself, a strong woman and a heroine I feel I should be rooting for, was someone I couldn’t quite engage with as much as I wanted to. 

There’s a lot to commend the book. The writing is powerful, though I thought it could have been pared down in certain places, and the scene-setting is lavish, bringing the smell of the burning sugar cane plantation into my nostrils, the sweaty claustrophobia of Newgate prison into my living room. The issues are important. But somehow, for me, the chemistry wasn’t quite there and the whole was less than the sum of its parts.

But don’t be put off. I think it’s a better book than I’m giving it credit for. 

Thanks to Netgalley and Penguin Books for a copy in return for an honest review.
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This was a really sumptuous exploration of the life and love of a former slave living in England in the 1820s. When we meet Frannie, she is in Newgate prison accused of murdering her employers. What follows is a series of flashbacks that follow Frannie from the plantation in Jamaica where she was a house slave for a particularly unsavoury character, through to her arrival in London and her presentation to George Benham as an educated black woman ripe for study. The writing was beautiful and heartfelt and the pacing was really compelling, albeit there were a couple of areas that felt a little repetitive on occasion. Frannie remains something of an enigma throughout, holding herself at arms length from the audience, which I found intriguing. There were times when the plot would jump suddenly, which could be a little jarring, but overall, I thought this was a well constructed and fascinating narrative that would appeal to fans of Sarah Waters.
I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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Frannie has grown up on a Jamaican sugar plantation as a house girl. She is a mulatto slave, and when her master, Mr Langton, is forced to return to England, she accompanied him. Although she is considered feee as soon as she enters England in the 1820s, Mr Langton ‘gives’ her to a colleague and friend, Mr Benham. She becomes Mrs Benham’s abigail (companion), friend and lover. However, we first meet Frannie as she sits in Newgate prison, writing the story of her life for her solicitor, and how she came to murder Mr and Mrs Benham. Something that she can’t at all remember doing. She has a lot going against her: she’s working class, a woman, and most importantly, she’s black. 
This was an interesting and captivating story. I learnt a lot about how black Jamaicans were regarded by Londoners (it’s not good), how laudanum was the ‘mother’s little helper’ of its time (although I think it was pretty much taken by anyone, male or female, who could afford it), and how black people were regarded as little more than animals. 
The whodunnit element was really puzzling for me, I honestly couldn’t figure it out. I couldn’t think of Frannie as being a murderer and killing the woman she loved. 
This is a really good read, and I would highly recommend recommend it. 
Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read this wonderful book.
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Frannie is growing up in a time when the slave trade was abolished but nothing had changed (although enslaved people’s lives became much worse).  She has a core of steel but no matter where she is, on the sugar plantation Paradise in the West Indies or in Georgian London with the Benham’s, she is someone else’s experiment or used for what she can give.  As long as she is useful there is a place for her. 

She’s independent in spirit – a woman going against mainstream and expectations, not fitting in anywhere.  Marguerite Benham is quirky, walks to the beat of a different drum, a radical thinker.  As mistress and maid the boundaries are fluid.  Even before the laudanum, their time together feels other-worldly and dreamlike … Sara Collins captures the mind of an addict and the effects really well.  She made me believe this was my life too. 

I really enjoyed Sara Collins writing style too, her use of figurative language making this a very visual read for me.  There are snippets of wisdom, I loved this from Frannie:

“But, looking back now, I see that your own life can be a story you tell yourself, that you can be both the person reading and the thing being read.”

I became so immersed in Frannie’s life as she writes her story that I often forgot she was on trial and that there was an ending waiting at the trial in the Old Bailey.  

So many emotions!  I loved experiencing the shadow side of life vicariously through Frannie, at times out of my comfort zone, but understanding motives and actions.  And hoping that I would have the strength to do the same if it had been my life.

An outstanding read.
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This book explores so many themes, that at times it is hard to follow them all and the central story was quite confusing.  At the end it was almost all wrapped up, but it took a long time to get there!

I wanted Frannie’s life to somehow turn around, and it never really did. That this is true to life for oppressed people is not in doubt, but just a warning for those wanting a happy tale...this is not it!

The author wanted to create a complex gothic romance such as Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre but with a Jamaican slave as the heroine. I haven’t read either of these books, but I am now intrigued to do so.

Thank you to #NetGalley and the publisher for my free advance copy in return for an unbiased review.
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As she awaits trial for murder, Frannie Langton writes her memoirs.  In these 'confessions' we learn about her early life as a favoured slave on a white man's plantation, singled out to be educated.  With the chance of a new life in London, Frannie's circumstances seem to improve, but new challenges, and different forms of slavery await her there.

This is a powerful book, full of twists and turns, but is not for the feint-hearted: it features various accounts of mutilation and 'medical' procedures on unwilling victims.  

This novel most reminds me to 'Alias Grace' by Margaret Atwood, although the style of this narrative is much more 'choppy' - not necessarily a negative as it does keep you intrigued right to the end, when you ate finally rewarded with a full picture.
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What a great epic read. As Frances faces trial for the murder of her Master and Mistress, she takes the opportunity to recall her life to this point and how she is facing trial now. 
A mixed race “mulaffa” raised on a slave plantation in Jamaica, she is brought to England as a young woman and “ gifted” to the wealthy George Benham and his wife Marguerite. 

A complete mix of genres. The obvious murder mystery / did she or didn’t she commit murder, alongside welcome and important observations on the impact of slavery, of the work scientists were undertaking during the period to “prove” race superiority to justify their actions, love affairs, inter-racial relationships and class divides between the wealthy and their servants.

So much to digest. So much to discuss! A gem of a read
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