The Invention of Wings – Sue Monk Kidd
- Hardcover: 384 pages
- Publisher: Tinder Press (7 Jan 2014)
- Source – Netgalley
- My Rating – 4 stars
Set in early 19th century Charleston, Sue Monk Kidd’s latest novel is the story of two women from very different backgrounds. On her eleventh birthday Sarah Grimke, daughter of a wealthy judge, is gifted ownership of ten year old Hetty “Handful” Grimke, a slave who will act as her handmaid. Both young girls have many dreams and aspirations but these are thwarted by social convention in Sarah’s case and the brutal reality of enslavement for Handful. Indeed, Handful points out that her slavery is that of the body whilst Sarah is held captive by her own mind.
Narrated in turn by Sarah and Handful, the story paints a realistic picture of the deep South where anyone speaking out against slavery is ostracised. Sarah has had a privileged background but she’s an intelligent woman who wants more than needlepoint and a socially acceptable match. As a teenager she sees how her brothers’ horizons expand whilst her prospects become limited. Meanwhile Handful is raised by a strong mother, Charlotte, who advocates quiet rebellion and unlocks the possibility of freedom for her daughter.
Spanning 35 years, this novel is loosely based on the life of Sarah Grimke and her sister Angelina who were the first female abolitionists and feminist thinkers in the United States. The parallel stories of Sarah and Handful provide an intriguing insight into the racism, misogynism and inequality which pervaded the Southern States during this era. The voices of Sarah and Handful are very convincing as is the depiction of the claustrophobic life of the landed gentry and the daily brutality of life for slaves.
This is a very readable, thought-provoking story which packs a slightly stronger punch than the author’s first novel The Secret Life of Bees.