Monday 25 December 2023

A Desperate Fortune

Finished December 15
A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley

This is a novel that I'd been meaning to read for a while since I'd read a later book featuring some of the same characters and really enjoyed it. This is a dual timeline novel, with the outer story in the present day and the inner one in the 1730s, set around the Jacobite community in Europe, exiled from England. 
In the present day IT specialist Sara Thomas is between jobs, when her cousin Jacqui who is a literary agent, approaches her about a freelance job. The job is not in her usual area, but instead involves working to break the code on a diary written by a young woman who was the daughter of a wigmaker in King James the Eighth's household in France. The first few paragraphs of the diary are written in English, but the rest is written in code, and one of Jacqui's authors is interested in using the diary to base his new history book on. 
Sara is on the autism scale, and has been tested as Asperger's, and she doesn't like working on a team, but more independently, which is why she is between jobs. Her affinity with numbers and patterns means that while she hasn't worked to break a code before, it is a natural area for her skillset. Sara will be working in the home of the woman who owns the diary in France, not far from Paris. 
As Sara works to break the code and transcribe the diary, we see adjust to the people in her new environment and make new friends. 
In the second timeline, Mary Dundas is a young woman whose father left her as a child with her French maternal aunt when her mother died. Her diary starts as she is contacted by her older brother to join his household, but she soon finds out that he hasn't told her his real reason for reuniting with her, and she finds a chance encounter with another woman passing through the same household she visits gives her confidence and tools to make the best of her new situation. 
Both woman have facility in more than one language and both face issues outside their comfort zone, and in environments unfamiliar to them. 
I really enjoyed seeing both of them develop. Mary's story is a true coming-of-age tale even though she is in her early twenties, as she has lived in her aunt and uncle's household alongside their children for most of her life. Sara's story also has coming-of-age aspects, even though she is older, as she learns to use the skills her brain has dealt her, find ways to face those times she struggles without being embarrassed, and gains in her confidence on the romantic front. I hope to see more following both these women. 

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