Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford
Ballentine, 2017. Hardcover, 320 pages.
With all the pre-publication buzz surrounding it, I thought it would be a good idea to give Love and Other Consolation Prizes a try. Inspired by several true stories and events, this novel is set amidst the 1909 Alaska Yukon Pacific Expo, that year’s World’s Fair in Seattle. However, instead of revealing the revelry, this novel focuses on darker issues. It begins with the raffle of a Chinese orphan named Ernest, who was essentially brought to America as a child slave years before. The holder of the winning ticket was a madame of a brothel. Ernest soon becomes an integral member of the household, running errands and chauffeuring everyone in the new car. He also befriends fellow servant, a kitchen maid named Fahn, and the madame’s daughter, Maise. These three form a tight-knit group and together redefine love. They also witness the many social changes of the era, one of which will dramatically affect their lives.
In addition to the 1909-1910 timeline, there is a second timeline in the early 1960s set during the second World’s Fair held in Seattle. In this Ernest is an old man who’s wife is slowly slipping away due to illness. He must find a way to cope with his past, which he had kept hidden but came back in a rush when his eldest daughter finds an article about the raffle at the first Fair. His daughter, a journalist, wants to discover the truth about the article and Ernest soon reveals that of his past. In fact, it can be inferred that the historical timeline is what Ernest is writing on his typewriter.
With it’s vivid, and at times poetic, writing there is a lot to be admired in the way this novel was structured. This helped to make the reader feel as those they were part of the novel. However, I found it hard to connect with parts of the novel, mainly in the historic timeline at the brothel. Granted, the novel featured the behind the scenes life of the servants there but having youth living among the women did not mesh for me. I might have felt differently had Ernest, Maise, and Fahn been a few years older. To compare, there were elements of this novel that reminded my of Ruta Sepetys’ Out of the Easy, which was set decades later in New Orleans but with a similar setting. In that one, the main character was several years older but in a similar position as Ernest and the younger girls and I think that worked better. And it helped that unlike these three youth, Josie in Out of the Easy wanted a better life than her mother’s. All this said, if you like a historical drama with fabulous writing, give this novel a try and then also consider reading Sepetys’ novel (each of her books is phenomenal).
Have you read this novel yet? If so, what did you think? If not, do you plan to? Also, what are your thoughts on the idea that slavery persisted after the Civil War?
This review is based on a copy of the novel provided by the publisher.