Book Review: Following Ophelia (Sophia Bennett)
* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *
Publisher: Stripes Publishing
Release Date: March 9th 2017
Summary (from Goodreads):
When Mary Adams sees Millais’ depiction of the tragic Ophelia, a whole new world opens up for her. Determined to find out more about the beautiful girl in the painting, she hears the story of Lizzie Siddal – a girl from a modest background, not unlike her own, who has found fame and fortune against the odds. Mary sets out to become a Pre-Raphaelite muse, too, and reinvents herself as Persephone Lavelle. But as she fights her way to become the new face of London’s glittering art scene, ‘Persephone’ ends up mingling with some of the city’s more nefarious types and is forced to make some impossible choices.
Will Persephone be forced to betray those she loves, and even the person she once was, if she is to achieve her dreams?
I did an essay on the Ophelia painting by Millais in university as part of a trans-media storytelling class. It was something I didn’t particularly have an interest in and knew nothing about but I actually really enjoyed doing it. So when I heard about this book, set in the midst of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, I was intrigued.
Mary Adams is a country girl who’s just moved to London to be a maid. She’s not much good at cleaning grates or working hard but she does catch the eye of a number of painters with her beautiful red hair. She makes some well-connected friends and, through their trickery, is able to escape her servant life every few days and become Persephone Lavelle, a Pre-Raphaelite muse. But she can’t keep her two lives from meeting and everything soon starts to unravel.
Mary was a very lovable character. I enjoyed her outlook on everything, especially when she first came to London and just seemed to smile at everything. She was honest about herself and knew she wanted more from life than being a servant. When she became Persephone I enjoyed all the parties and new people with her: I wanted her to have a good time, to experience something she hadn’t before and enjoy being thought of as a mysterious lady.
Although I don’t know much about art, I did catch a few painters names that I recognised and it was fun to think about all the creativity and art that was going on around the edges of Mary’s story. I wasn’t a huge fan of the romance story line: there was nothing wrong with it, I just wasn’t that interested in it. It was there and that was fine but I was more interested in the paintings and the parties and how Mary coped with her double life.
Throughout the book, I felt really anxious for when Mary’s secret was discovered. It had to happen, of course, the whole ‘liar-revealed’ plot point and I was rooting for her so much I was genuinely scared of the trouble she’d be in when she was found out. It actually turned out to be even worse than I expected and I felt sorry for her, as I did so want things to work out well.
The ending left me feeling a bit odd. Although there was a hopeful note at the end, it just wasn’t the one I was expecting. It makes sense in fitting with the times: Mary’s reputation couldn’t recover after everything and she’d have trouble finding another job as a servant even if she wanted to, but the way things were left made me feel strangely hollow. It’s hard to talk about without spoiling it so I’ll leave it at that.