The Promise by Ann Weisgarber

The Promise

Publisher: Mantle (14 March 2013)

Synopsis from Goodreads:

1900. Young pianist Catherine Wainwright flees the fashionable town of Dayton, Ohio in the wake of a terrible scandal. Heartbroken and facing destitution, she finds herself striking up correspondence with a childhood admirer, the recently widowed Oscar Williams. In desperation she agrees to marry him.

But when Catherine travels to Oscar’s farm on Galveston island, Texas – a thousand miles from home – she finds she is little prepared for the life that awaits her. The island is remote, the weather sweltering, and Oscar’s little boy Andre is grieving hard for his lost mother. And though Oscar tries to please his new wife, the secrets of the past sit uncomfortably between them.

Meanwhile for Nan Ogden, Oscar’s housekeeper, Catherine’s sudden arrival has come as a great shock. For not only did she promise Oscar’s first wife that she would be the one to take care of little Andre, but she has feelings for Oscar which she is struggling to suppress. And when the worst storm in a generation
descends, the women will find themselves tested as never before…

 

My thoughts:

 

The story is narrated by two women, both from different worlds but with very strong voices and beliefs.

It is 1900. Nan Ogden is a young women living in Galveston and a neighbour of Oscar Williams and a great friend to his late wife Bernadette. Nan promised Oscar’s dying wife that she would look after Andre, their young son.  Secretly, she has feelings for Oscar and hopes that one day they might be reciprocated.

Catherine Wainwright, a talented pianist, is around the same age and living in Ohio.  As a result of a scandal involving a married man, she is ostracised by her community and penniless. After trying to find someone who will help her, she comes across the name of Oscar Williams, an old school friend who at the time had a crush on her.  However Oscar, being the son of a coal merchant was not considered good enough for Catherine – but that was then.  Oscar has now done well for himself in the intervening years and has his own smallholding in Galveston.

This was a compelling read, told by two women – one in love with a man and another who made a marriage of convenience.  Both women are constrained by the rules of society which dictates how they should dress and behave.  Nan is illiterate but knows how to keep a house whereas Catherine is educated but cannot cook a basic meal.

Nan’s jealousy of Catherine comes to the fore and she feels usurped by Catherine’s presence as Oscar’s new wife and it is clear that the two women are too different to be friends.  However when a great storm arrives, both women must do whatever they can to survive.

I adored this book and found it a powerful read.  It is mainly set over a relatively short time period of just over a week but so much happens in that timeframe.  The characters are so well written and events are described with such detail that the reader feels like a bystander and by the end of the story I was near to tears.   There is a wonderful sense of place – you can feel the stifling Texan heat and get a real sense of the remote and vast landscape where your nearest neighbour is over a mile away.

The story is based on a true event from 1900 when Galveston was torn to shreds and over 6,000 people lost their lives.  I knew nothing of this tragedy before reading the book and was interested enough to find out more.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough and will be keen to read more by this author.

5/5

Author website: http://annweisgarber.com

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