In Grist by Linda Little we journey back to rural Nova Scotia in the late 1800′s. The novel vividly describes life as it would have been at this time in history with all the struggles and triumphs and it is so beautifully written.
Penelope McCabe is a schoolteacher in the 1800′s and is quite settled with being on her own until she meets her landlord’s brother Ewan MacLauglin. He sincerely seems interested in what she thinks and he is different from any man she’s been courted by before and she finds herself welcoming his attentions. Penelope is a plain girl having been described by her father once as ‘one horse of a girl’ so she’s a bit suspicious as to why he’d be interested in her as he’s a successful miller. When she questions him on this he makes it clear that he isn’t interested in flighty girls – he wants sensible and hard working. When he asks Penelope to marry him she agrees.
Upon arriving at Ewan’s home Penelope is touched by all he has done to make her comfortable and despite some misgivings she convinces herself that all will be well. As the days pass though Penelope becomes increasingly worried that she may have made a mistake. Ewan is not fond of communicating at all and prefers her to just be quiet. He wants nothing to do with the neighbors and would rather Penelope do the same. What he does want though is children, more to the point boys and heirs. Penelope would love a family and feels quite sure this is one area she is sure to please her husband. However it isn’t to be that easy and it isn’t long before their marriage is suffering. As more time passes Penelope realizes with a sinking feeling that she really never knew the man she up and married. Ewan is a domineering and often cruel man but still Penelope is determined to make the best of things. When Ewan begins leaving her to run the mill on her own though as he travels to help others build mills tragedy strikes and Penelope knows she will never be able to forgive Ewan.
I really felt sorry for Penelope. She existed at a time when women didn’t have a lot of options and her whole life hinged on her husband. Without his support she would have nothing and so that also meant that she couldn’t just walk away from his cruelty. I could feel her loneliness and uncertainty and her pain when things began to go horribly wrong in her life. Ewan rubbed me wrong from the very beginning and he proved over and over again that he couldn’t be trusted. Parts of the story were from his point of view but even with that I couldn’t warm to him. It was Penelope I connected with and I admired her resilience and strength in a situation that could not have been easy for her.
Another aspect of this novel I found fascinating was all the information on building and running a mill. It’s obvious that the author did a lot of research in that area and this reader appreciated it. I would absolutely recommend Grist to historical fiction readers! I’m looking forward to getting my hands on more of Linda Little’s work and as always I’m happy to promote a Canadian author whenever I can!
— Peeking Between the Pages