In a nation divided by prejudice, everyone must take a side. When young seamstress May Bedloe is left alone and penniless on the shore of the Ohio, she finds work on the famous floating theatre that plies its trade along the river. Her creativity and needlework skills quickly become invaluable and she settles in to life among the colourful troupe of actors. She finds friends, and possibly the promise of more. But cruising the border between the Confederate South and the ‘free’ North is fraught with danger. For the sake of a debt that must be repaid, May is compelled to transport secret passengers, under cover of darkness, across the river and on, along the underground railroad. But as May’s secrets become harder to keep, she learns she must endanger those now dear to her. And to save the lives of others, she must risk her own.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. There were many things that drew me to it – the cover completely grabbed my attention, the setting of a floating theatre and the theme of slavery. A theme that I have a fondness for in my books.
The book is rich in detail, the descriptions are wonderful and you feel like you’re floating along the Ohio river along with this colourful cast of characters. I loved May, she was such a refreshing, interesting character and she can’t lie.
“Comfort was right when she said I could not lie. It’s not on principle. For reasons I can’t explain, I feel a great need to give a pointedly accurate account of the facts.”
She finds herself alone and penniless and manages to secure a job on The Floating Theatre as seamstress and general dogsbody. She has a big heart and quickly finds herself at home with the theatre family – apart from the meddling Mrs Niffen that is!
There are characters to love and hate (May – we love, Mrs Niffen not so much) I felt that they became a part of me. They are so well written that you feel you become an integral part of The Floating Theatre. You become a part of the family, like May. I had a special fondness for Leo (possibly because he shares a name with my little one) he and May become very much like brother and sister during the story and it’s a beautiful thing to see.
The underground railroad storyline does not appear until over half way through the book. And Martha Conway doesn’t hold back with the horrific lives that slaves are being forced to lead. It adds a darkness to the story but it was a darkness that I enjoyed.
“The small iron rings had been made to fit the tiniest wrists, and the splinters of rust speckling them were the colour of dried, dark blood.”
I was swept away with this book, I came to feel for the characters and had true moments of sadness and joy whilst reading ‘The Floating Theatre’. The writing is wonderful and the setting is fantastic – what’s not to love about a floating theatre! I highly recommend this book, it makes for great Summer reading (well, all year round reading really). Beautiful, emotive and satisfying.
BOOKISH CORNER RATING – 4/5 STARS
Martha Conway grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, the sixth of seven daughters. Her first novel was nominated for an Edgar Award and she has won several awards for her historical fiction. She now lives in San Francisco and is an instructor of creative writing for Stanford University’s Online Creative Writing Program and UC Berkeley Extension.
‘The Floating Theatre’ is out now in hardback published by Zaffre Publishing. With thanks to the publisher for my copy
If ‘The Floating Theatre’ floats your boat (!) then you may also like these:
‘The Kitchen House’ by Kathleen Grissom
‘The Book of Negroes’ by Lawrence Hill
‘The Miniaturist’ by Jessie Burton
‘The Underground Railroad’ by Colson Whitehead