Book Review: The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo (Catherine Johnson)
Publisher: Corgi Childrens
Release Date: July 2nd 2015
Summary (From Goodreads):
Set in the early nineteenth century, this is incredible story of the ultimate historical hustle, based on the true story of Mary Willcox. After a harrowing street attack, Mary makes a life-changing decision: to become Princess Caraboo. Speaking a language of her own devising, she manages to convince the respected Worrall family that she is just what she claims to be. Language professors, journalists and artists are captivated by Caraboo’s beauty and the story that surrounds her. But as her lies get bigger, so too does the risk involved in her deception, and when she begins to fall in love with seventeen-year-old Fred Worrall, Mary realizes that she can’t keep up her con forever, and that some stories can be very dangerous indeed…
I received a copy of this book as part of The Lady Caraboo blog tour, so big thanks to Ming and Corgi Children’s for the copy.I always feel a little anxious getting books to review, especially ones for a blog tour. It can sometimes be awkward getting that balance between wanting to promote a book and wanting to stay true to your feelings about it. I am always honest with my reviews, no matter where the books came from.
That was a sidetrack and not important because I completely loved this book!
The start was pretty brutal and it sets up the story perfectly. In that first short chapter you understand Mary’s motivations for what she does, and you’re completely on her side from the beginning. While her actions could be seen as wrong, you know she doesn’t mean any harm by it, and is just trying to escape herself a while.
I loved the contrast in characters in this book: on the one hand, you have Mary Wilcox, who has been through hell and back and knows true poverty and pain, and on the other, you have the Worralls, Fred and Cassandra in particular, whose ‘middle class problems’ seem so petty in comparison. I’m not saying that their problems are irrelevant, it just puts it into perspective against Mary’s past.
The idea of a poor girl convincing an upper class family that she is a lost princess is truly magical, and when I read the author’s note at the end and found it was based on a true story, I was even more intrigued. I’m definitely going to do some research into Caraboo’s story and read some more about her now.
This felt like quite a gentle read: everything moved at a nice, leisurely pace and I enjoyed seeing how the characters developed and the relationships formed. A favourite for me was Cassandra, whose flighty feelings changed as quickly as she changed her dresses and could have got her in a whole heap of trouble.
Things got a little heated when a certain character turned up and claimed to be able to understand Caraboo’s (made up) language. I didn’t see the problem at first and thought it was entertaining as they pretended to have conversations while speaking gibberish, but it soon took a darker turn and, like Caraboo, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen the danger coming.
I really wasn’t sure how things would turn out in the end: there were too many lies and too many strands tangled together to have a suitable solution for all, but it did all work itself in a way, although I wouldn’t say it ended happily for everyone. Mary/Caraboo is a character that you really root for, and I knew that, whatever happened, I wanted her to do well out of this.
Overall I think this is a really stunning book and a beautiful adaptation of Lady Caraboo’s story. I love books that inspire me to read more around the subject, and this one certainly has. I’d definitely recommend reading it, and I’m going to be checking out more of Catherine Johnson’s books in the near future.
Check out my guest post from Catherine Johnson here.