Archive for May 2nd, 2007

Afternoons with Emily
By Rose MacMurray
Little, Brown
ISBN: 978-0-316-01760-2
Copyright 2007
Hardcover, 480 pages, $24.99

Reviewed by Mayra Calvani

Afternoons with Emily is a historical novel based on the life of eccentric American poet Emily Dickinson, yet the story isn’t about Emily as much as it is about its sensitive narrator, Miranda Chase.

The novel is broken into different parts based on years, beginning when Miranda was a little girl in Boston. Daughter of a very sick woman and a scholar man too busy to pay much attention to her, Miranda grows up with the fear of becoming ill with consumption like her mother. It is not before she dies that Miranda is finally free to enjoy life as a normal human being. This new part of her life is heightened by the fact that she and her father move to Barbados, where Miranda flourishes with the sea, the sun, and the dolphins. For the first time her father is able to really focus on her and her amazing literary skills. The focus of the novel, however, is on her life in Amherst, where they later move to and Miranda meets Emily. In spite of the difference in their ages—Miranda is a young teenager and Emily is twice her age—they become kindred spirits and inseparable friends. That is, until the obvious differences in their characters painfully begin to emerge, and Emily becomes not Miranda’s best friend but her most detrimental enemy…

The novel portrays in beautiful and throbbing detail a clear picture of mid-nineteenth-century Amherst, especially when it comes to the way society viewed women and people’s expectations toward them. Emily comes out as restless, genial, eccentric, obsessive and sometimes exuberant, and one of the most fascinating aspects of the novel is to hear her express herself—often her words are depicted with capital letters, which I found slightly distracting yet enthralling—about literature, society and women’s roles. This is a slow read for people who enjoy wallowing in language and characterization and shouldn’t be confused with a piece of work that grabs the reader until the end. As a serious literary work it is one that will be relished by fans of Dickinson. Author Rose MacMurray, who used too be a poetry teacher, died in 1997. Afternoons with Emily is her only published novel.

*This review originally appeared on Armchair Interviews

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