The Colour of Milk: A Novel

( 1 )

Overview

"this is my book and i am writing it by my own hand."

Mary and her three sisters rise every day to backbreaking farmwork that threatens to suppress their own awakening desires, whether it's Violet's pull toward womanhood or Beatrice's affinity for the Scriptures. But it's their father, whose anger is unleashed at the slightest provocation, who stands to deliver the most harm. Only Mary, fierce of tongue and a spitfire since birth, dares to stand up to him. When he sends her to work for the local vicar and his ...

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The Colour of Milk

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Overview

"this is my book and i am writing it by my own hand."

Mary and her three sisters rise every day to backbreaking farmwork that threatens to suppress their own awakening desires, whether it's Violet's pull toward womanhood or Beatrice's affinity for the Scriptures. But it's their father, whose anger is unleashed at the slightest provocation, who stands to deliver the most harm. Only Mary, fierce of tongue and a spitfire since birth, dares to stand up to him. When he sends her to work for the local vicar and his invalid wife in their house on the hill, he deals her the only blow she may not survive.

Within walking distance of her family farm, the vicarage is a world away–a curious, unsettling place unlike any she has ever known. Teeming with the sexuality of the vicar's young son and the manipulations of another servant, it is also a place of books and learning–a source of endless joy. Yet as young Mary soon discovers, such precious knowledge comes at a devastating price, as is gradually made clear once she begins the task of telling her own story.

Reminiscent of Alias Grace in the exploration of the power dynamics between servants and those they serve and of Celie's struggles in The Color Purple, this quietly devastating tour de force reminds us that knowledge can destroy even as it empowers.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Mary, the 15-year-old narrator of Leyshon’s new novel (after Bedlam), is a young English farm girl with more promise than prospects. The year is 1831 and her family—parents, three older sisters, and grandfather—beats down any spirit or ambition Mary might show. In spite of this, she learns to read and write, taking more pleasure and pride in her skills than in her farm work. When the vicar’s housemaid leaves, Mary’s father accepts payment to send Mary to tend to the vicar’s ailing wife, largely because Mary “ain’t exactly doing the work of a man down here.” As she tells her own story, Mary reveals herself as a pawn in the hands of the powerful. That she has chosen to set down this tale is her one daring act. The stylized language—biblical, colloquial, minimal—and restrained emotion save the story from soap opera melodrama, but also distance readers from Mary’s brief bursts of happiness—with her grandfather and the family cow—as well as from her growing distresses. We see the tragic price she pays for wanting more through the wrong end of a telescope; it is terrible, but too far off to be truly devastating. (Jan.)
Booklist
“Compelling. . . . Leyshon brings her narrator brilliantly to life. . . . Mary draws the reader in from the opening pages. Here is a headstrong, forthright, optimistic character determined to survive her wretched circumstances in a literary jewel crafted by an accomplished writer.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Resonant, heartbreaking. . . . The Colour of Milk is a truly wonderful read—a slender, beautiful novel with as much heart as a book twice its size.”
The Atlantic
“The unflinching, observant, and thoroughly persuasive voice of the narrator, a shrewd, illiterate farm girl, makes this slim novel striking.”
Kathleen Grissom
“Nell Leyshon has beautifully captured a voice that haunts, long after the last word has been read. Brava!”
Penelope Lively
“A wonderfully convincing voice and a devastating story told with great skill & economy. . . . A small tour de force”
Marian Keyes
“A wonderfully convincing voice and a devastating story told with great skill & economy. . . . A small tour de force”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062245823
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 12/26/2012
  • Pages: 171
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Nell Leyshon's first novel, Black Dirt, was longlisted for the Orange Prize and shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize. She is also an award-winning dramatist whose plays include Comfort Me with Apples, winner of an Evening Standard Award, and Bedlam, which was the first play written by a woman for Shakespeare's Globe.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 11, 2013

    This story is as inspiring as it is heartbreaking. Mary is young

    This story is as inspiring as it is heartbreaking. Mary is young and innocent, but far from naïve or simple. With a quick wit and sharp tongue, Mary tells everyone exactly how she feels…about everything. None of her relationships are easy, except for the one she has with her grandfather. As Mary’s story unfolds, you see the cage that is built around her and you understand how trapped she is. This concept is something that everyone can relate to in some form. By the end of the book, you’ll want to reach in and hold her, comfort her, and hold back what awaits her. It’s almost too much to bear.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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