Cover Image: Islands of Mercy

Islands of Mercy

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Member Reviews

Islands of Mercy is an intriguing story centred around Jane Adeane, "Angel of the Baths" as she sets out to discover her true purpose after an un expected and unwanted marriage proposal. Jane's story is interwoven with others who either feature in her life or in the lives of those close to her. The book moves between Bath, London, Dublin, Borneo and other cities. At times it is hard to piece all the different parts of the story together but as you read on they become clearer and keep you interested until the last few chapters which while closing the story are a bit rambling and disappointing.

I was given a copy of Islands of Mercy by NetGalley and the publishers in return for an unbiased review.
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A thought provoking read by Rose Tremain, though occasionally I felt like banging the characters  heads together! Set in 1865 and similar to the classic novels of the Brontes and Jane Austen, with strong female characters which I love but emboldened to men due to the era.  Jane, the main protagonist, “ the Angel of the Baths” devotes her life to her patients and her father in the roman city, yet feels incomplete, lacking enthusiasm until she meets the beautiful Julietta.  Her father’s in his twilight years and very reliant on his daughter until life takes an unexpected turn and love blossoms. Valentine Ross and his brother Edmund are an aside to the story and could’ve been a separate novel in themselves but provide a view of Colonial and Victorian Britain which we might not otherwise see.  All in all a good read.

Thanks to Netgalley the author and publishers Chatto Windus for an ARC in return for an honest review.
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Islands of Mercy by Rose Tremain
This novel is set in the 1860’s and is set in Bath, Paris, London, Dublin, Ireland and Borneo.  It is about a series of people whose lives are intertwined and we follow them as they attempt to discover their true selves.  
It is an extremely well written novel as expected by a writer of Rose Tremain’s ability. It beautifully portrays the Victorian period; its social behaviours, beliefs, attitudes.  It deals in detail with their scientific understanding and the medical beliefs of the period. The female characters are very interesting. Clorinda is a fascinating character with a terrific drive to overcome the poverty and famine of her native Ireland.
 Jane, is an independent, unconventional woman who battles against the times in which she is born.  She is a statuesque woman standing at 6 foot 2 inches!
I found myself less involved with the male characters in the book.  Valentine Ross seems to become less likeable as the book progresses and he realises that his ability to control Jane has diminished.
I found myself less engaged with the section of the novel which is set in Borneo but found the descriptions of Bath and Paris delightful.  As with any Rose Tremain book the language was a pleasure in which to immerse yourself.
Many thanks to the author, the publishers and Net Galley for the opportunity to read this book in return for an honest review.
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A multi-stranded book, rich with historical details and wonderful and complex characters, Islands of Mercy was right up my street. There is an elegance to the writing of Rose Tremain which made this novel immersive and spellbinding in places. Vivid, detailed and compelling, this was a wonderful read.
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another really enjoyable and enjoyable read from rose Tremain.  Rose is a great strong character, and she definitely is a force to be reckoned with. A poignant story with a great sene of time and place. I would happily read it again.
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I fully expected to absolutely love this novel, and instead I was really disappointed. It sounded like it would be just the sort of thing I love to read, and instead it turned into a right slog to get through. I almost wish that Sarah Waters had written it instead! My main problem with the novel is the amount of characters/strands - I think the book would have been much, much better if it had focused more on Jane (or even Clorinda, who I found to be much more interesting than any of the other characters. The almost throwaway chapter about her and her niece, Aisling, was my favourite in the book). I think the whole Borneo sections could have been edited out - I didn't really feel like they added anything, and all the characters from those parts seemed to be cliched, cardboard cut outs.
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The slightly odd title tells you a lot about what Tremain is doing in this 14th novel. Often at the mercy of forces internal and external, her outcast characters look for places where they can find rest and refuge after a time of suffering. Will they, in turn, extend mercy? The split perspective and the focus on people who have to hide their sexuality are most similar to her Sacred Country. The Victorian tip of the hat is mostly directed, I think, to George Eliot; of recent work, I was reminded of The Doll Factory and The Essex Serpent. I especially liked Jane’s painter aunt, Emmeline, and Clorinda, the Irish woman whose opening of a tearoom sets the plot going. The settings are surprising and vivid, and if Tremain doesn’t quite bring them and their story lines together seamlessly, she is still to be applauded for her ambition. This is probably my joint favorite of her novels that I’ve read so far, with The Road Home.

Favorite lines:

“We must be unconventional in our joys and find them wherever we can.”

“life, so often so cruel in the way it thrust the human soul into prisons from which there seemed to be no escape, could sometimes place it athwart an open door.”
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A novel set in Victorian times across primarily two parts of the world ,Bath and Borneo with forays into Paris and London.  Strong characters are drawn in the storyline with people seeking love in various forms and portrays the kindness and damage that can be wrought due to the vagaries of human nature. The joys and the destruction. , jealousy and survival. It is a multi layered novel with room for thought .
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Jane is a tall woman ... already I love this book.  Following an unwanted proposal she flees to her aunts house in a London and discovers love.  Meanwhile in the forests of Borneo Sir Ralph Savage has built himself an earthly paradise.  Although on opposite sides of the world Jane and Ralph’s worlds mingle. Unputdownable fiction that flits from Nineteenth century London to Borneo with cameos in Ireland and Bath.
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*** ARC provided by Netgalley via the publisher in exchange for an honest review. ***

This is my first read of one of Rose Tremain's novels and I come away with mixed reviews.

2/3rds of the book were excellent, 5 star rated, in fact. These are the parts of the book following Jane and Clorinda who are both interesting characters without us being whisked away to Borneo for what felt like a much less interesting story.

Whilst the language really set the scene for me in Bath and London, I found myself skipping over the lengthy descriptions of the house in Borneo and the characters out of disinterest. The ending pleased me greatly without revealing any spoilers.
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Rose at remain is a truly astonishing storyteller. Each book is so different and she takes the reader into a totally different world every time.

I absolutely loved this story. Again, I was swept into jungles and strangeness in Borneo alongside a narrative set in mid Victorian London and Bath and Dublin slums.  This is a multi layered story which works well as an adventure but explores numerous themes including the nature of love, loneliness, loss, duty.  It’s complex and filled with rich and vibrant characters whose difficulties, excesses and desires I found easy to buy into.  It gallops along at a pace, switching easily between the different locations and characters and kept me totally engrossed.  This is what truly great literature is all about; beautifully written, a spell binding  story and one that leaves you thinking.  Loved it and my thanks to the publisher for a review copy via Netgalley.
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Lots of well described characters. Trials and tribulations for everyone concerned. Loved the period in Bath, as I often visit there, the names of the streets and descriptions of the places involved, especially the thermal baths.
Jane who works with her father a doctor is perused by his assistant Ross, but refuses his offer of marriage, she is then involved in a lesbian affair which awakens her sexuality.
The other locations of the book are London where Jane stays with her Aunt and meets her lesbian lover and Borneo where Ross's brother is a botanist.
A well researched and haunting story, where a jealous and unhinged man can ruin lives.
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I have really enjoyed Tremain’s historical novels in the past, especially her vibrant and absorbing Merivel novels, but this one disappointed me. The story is about Jane, a striking-looking woman renowned for her nursing skills, but who feels she is meant for another destiny. She spurns a conventional marriage for a passionate affair with a woman but later reconsiders, with brutal consequences. The other strand of the book centres on the eccentric and wealthy Sir Ralph and his uninhibited life in the wilds of Borneo. The two parts do not sit well together, the exotic nature of parts of the plot seemed incongruous for the Victorian era, and I found the writing style rather restrained and uninvolving. I did not care about the characters and struggled to maintain attention in parts. I wish I had liked it more, but I am sure lots of Tremain’s many fans will disagree. with me.
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I found this historical novel really quite disappointing. It gives us a number of parallel narrative strands which are pulled together, to differing degrees, by the end. It deals with several (too many?) interesting and important issues such as gender identity, homosexuality both male and female, violence against women, female empowerment and colonialism, but in an extremely clunky way.

Clorinda Morissey moves from poverty and a menial job in Dublin to Bath, where she sells a family heirloom and uses the proceeds to set up her own tea rooms.  Amongst her customers is Dr Valentine Ross, and in the course of time she witnesses his rebuffed offer of marriage to his business partner's strikingly tall daughter Jane Adeane, revered throughout town as the Angel of the Baths.  Valentine's brother Edmund, meanwhile, is a naturalist who, in his quest for new species of plant and animal to send back to England, has gone to the jungles of Borneo where he encounters the eccentric but wealthy self-styled rajah Sir Ralph Savage, living in opulence and in a homosexual relationship with his native manservant who secretly despises him and has plans and ambitions of his own.  Fleeing Bath for London and the company of her bohemian aunt, Jane discovers and satisfies her attraction to women, setting the stage for an exploration of the turbulence such life choices brought in Victorian England, including exposing Valentine's underlying abusive propensities. And meanwhile, the jungle in Borneo lays waste to the best laid plans of men. and in some cases, to their lives

All of this has great potential, and could have made for a profound and insightful novel. Instead, it reads like an inferior pastiche of the likes of Sarah Waters, Maeve Binchy and Anne Patchett's State of Wonder. Everything is heavily foreshadowed and woefully overstated, with no subtlety or space for the reader to bring their own engagement to the reading experience.  Having heard good things about Rose Tremain I had higher expectations, but this was simply too busy, too obvious, too one-directional, like a hastily cobbled-together senior school essay. A wasted opportunity.
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I haven’t ever read any of Rose Tremain’s works but having read this, I may seek them out!. This is a hugely complex story with so many interwoven characters, plots and settings that I don’t know how Tremain managed to keep on top of them all, let alone create a novel that is easy to read and compelling.

The plot largely centres around Jane Adeane, a nurse at her father’s surgery in Bath in 1865 who, due to her skills and a certain aura, is known as the “angel of the baths.” But she feels that she has a destiny to do something more with her life. What unfolds is a story full of characters who are unsatisfied with their lives but are striving (to a lesser or greater degree) to do or experience more. The book takes in issues of being a woman at that time, homosexuality, colonialism and more.

It really is an interesting book and I would recommend it. However, the side story in Borneo is definitely the weaker part and, while the characters are all linked, it didn’t feel necessary. I would’ve preferred more focus on Jane and her lover, Julietta, or the characters in Dublin who are only really brought in towards the end. Perhaps there’s the option for another story that could feature them?

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for giving me the opportunity to read this book.
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The more of Rose Tremain's books I read the more I appreciate her talent for creating interesting, believable, diverse and detailed characters. Islands of Mercy is no exception. 

We follow a young woman called Jane, the daughter of a Doctor and a respected nurse in her own right as she contemplates a choice between life as a spinster, hiding her sexuality and relationships with women, or marriage to a doctor working alongside her father which will enable her to conform to society's expectation of her. 
We also follow a British Rajah in Borneo, Ralph, who is making choices of his own and facing the reality of his future prospects with his male lover. 

The historical settings of 19th Century England and the exotic island of Borneo are both portrayed brilliantly and the dual narrative structure worked really well to keep the story engaging but also to draw some interesting parallels between the narratives.

I adored this book and think it is one of Tremain's absolute best. 

Thank you to Netgalley and Random House UK for the ARC.
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I was sent a copy of Islands of Mercy by Rose Tremain to read and review by NetGalley.
I was really looking forward to reading this book as Rose Tremain is one of my favourite authors.  I have to say though, I was a little disappointed as it didn’t quite live up to my expectations.  While I still enjoyed the novel, I felt that the writing often seemed rather detached and matter of fact.  There was a good deal of psychological explanation, or so it seemed to me, which made certain passages somewhat dry.  There were still moments of the authors customary magic, where the prose was all engrossing and more in her usual style - unfortunately, not quite enough for me.  I have still given a rating of four stars but I do wish I had felt it worthy of the full five.
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This book I must admit I have found very hard to review as it felt like I was reading two different novels in one book. They interlink slightly towards the end but it left me a bit confused.

Firstly, the plotline involving Jane was brilliant, I loved the setting in Bath and how she had fallen in love with another woman but had the pressure to marry a man. She was such a likeable and realistic character who I really admired. One of the scenes between her and Dr Ross really shocked me. He was such a vile, arrogant man who I detested the more and more I read about him which is exactly how the author would want readers to feel. I also loved the character of Clorinda who was perceived to be a strong, independent woman who really shone in this book. Life as we all know in Victorian England for a woman wanting more in life than just getting married and raising children was frowned upon. To have a character like Clorinda with her own business was remarkable to read about. The female characters were just written brilliantly!

The parts of the story that baffled me were with Sir Ralph Savage and Dr Ross’ brother Edward in Borneo. They both didn’t bring anything to the story and when I finished the book I was left dissatisfied. The whole storyline involving them could have been cut out of this book and it would have made no major difference to events that do unfold. I just found it made the entire reading experience of this book a bit odd. However I thought the descriptions of Borneo were magnificently written and I could picture it all perfectly in my head.

Overall, this book is beautifully written, with strong female characters and a great plotline that took place in Bath. If the parts based in Borneo were taken out I probably would have rated it higher but I feel three stars is fair for this particular book.
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Bath, 1865, Clorinda Morrissey has just arrived from her native Ireland and opens her tea room. Jane Adeane, the Angel Of the Baths works as a nurse with her father William Adeane and Valentine Ross, a surgeon. The story also takes us to London, where Jane’s aunt lives and where Jane meets the unforgettable Julietta.  We also travel to Borneo where Edmund, brother of Valentine is doing his botanical research and where we also meet the Rajah Ralph Savage and his servant and lover Leon. All these characters are complex, searching for a direction to their life, choosing to live very differently from the norm at the time. Their emotions are violent, deep and give direction to their lives. In the middle of all these tortured souls, Clorinda and William are warm, reassuring and merciful characters I liked very much in the novel. Rose Tremain’s writing is exceptional again in this book, bringing these characters to life and immersing fully the reader into the setting, its colors, shapes, smells and atmosphere. I remained puzzled with the end of the book, and it felt as though some storylines remained hanging in the air.  I enjoyed again the style of Rose Tremain, a real pleasure. 

Thank you to NetGalley, Random House UK Vintage Publishing, and the author Rose Tremain for this advance readers copy of Islands of Mercy.
#IslandsofMercy #NetGalley
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Islands of Mercy follows the lives of a whole cast of characters in the year 1865, from the quaint streets of Bath to the bustling social hub and London and across the oceans to Borneo.

I'm afraid that I couldn't connect to Tremain's story at all - at 30%, I still couldn't fathom where the plot was going. Just a little too slow paced for my personal tastes. I also didn't feel invested in any of her characters or their relationships.

I imagine this might suit a reader who appreciates a slow build up, or stories set in and around the 19th century.
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