Book Review – The Floating Theatre by Martha Conway

Title: The Floating Theatre

Author: Martha Conway

Category / Box Ticked: A book by a female author

I love a character driven novel. There’s something special about knowing you’re going to miss the presence of a fictional character in your life the moment you close the book. And boy am I going to miss May Bedloe. With the book set in 1838, she was undoubtedly on the Asperger’s spectrum ahead of her time. Honest to a fault, unable to understand sarcasm or social cues, and more comfortable in her own company than surrounded by others, I quickly found myself on her side. A talented seamstress, she finds herself a job on the famous Floating Theatre, a flatboat that makes its way down the Ohio River, stopping to perform at towns along the way. She soon manages to make herself indispensable to the troupe and in spite of herself, finds that she comes to care a great deal for her new working family.

However, it’s 1838, and the Ohio River is the natural division between the ‘free’ North, where slavery is outlawed and the South or ‘slave states’. With the Floating Theatre stopping on both sides of the river, tensions will mount and people will be forced to choose sides. Because as we know from our own experience, both past and present, when a topic of such prejudice is involved, one cannot truly remain neutral. And what’s more, a character from May’s past will use the ruse of a debt to be repaid to exploit her position on the boat, compelling her to become involved in the underground Abolitionist movement of transporting slaves from one side of the river to the other, endangering everyone who has become dear to her.  

The book is wrought with tension, although I wouldn’t call it a thriller. It’s an easy and very pleasant read. The characters absolutely bring it to life, whether you love them or hate them – apart from May, you’ll probably hate them. Life on the boat and the Ohio River are so beautifully detailed they had me wanting to delve into the history books to learn more about the era. The descriptions of slavery are accurate and enough to raise your blood pressure, without being overly sentimental and manipulative of your emotions – which I find books like this often tend to be. So, praise must go to the author for her restraint in this regard. It would be much easier to write paragraph after paragraph on the evils of slavery and have the reader in tears than to use the subtlety she did and rather get the reader thinking.

Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable book to start the year, picked for it’s beautiful cover and intriguing title, it certainly lived up to the promise.

Rating: 4/5

When you’re starting out with this challenge it’s really hard to know which box to tick because you’re not sure what else you’re going to be reading. I was really hoping there would be an ‘historical fiction’ category, but alas, no. So, I’m going with a broad category out the gate and hoping it doesn’t come back to bite me.

New Year New Blog

So, it would appear the WordPress powers that be punished me for not blogging enough last year, and shut me down, almost forcing me to start a new blog. I guess that would make one of my new year’s resolutions be to blog more, but if you’re at all familiar with me or my work, you’ll know my feelings on new year’s resolutions and my belief and that they are an evitable path to failure. Generally speaking, they are just grand, vague empty promises you make to yourself about the better person you’re going to become in the new year. But the problem is, you have no idea how to become that person. You’ve identified the destination, but you have no road map for how to get there.   

2018 was by no means an easy year for me. Perhaps marginally better than 2017, I only had one hospital stay, but just as many doctors’ visits. I went through shoulder rehab, fell off the shoulder rehab wagon, and then climbed back on the wagon late in the year. I went through a serious bout of seasonal depression, found out my inner child was still really angry about a lot of stuff and I lost my last remaining grandparent. However, I also went on an amazing holiday to a Greek Island. I saw Ed Sheeran live. I welcomed a nephew into this world and I saw my beloved Seahawks kick some serious ass live, with my Big Bruv. Hubby and I went on an incredible trip to the Kruger and watched an unforgettable lunar eclipse together. And even though I no longer have grandparents, for most of my life I had the best grandparents, and that’s more than most people ever get.

I know undoubtedly that part of what made 2018 marginally easier was that I had a road map. No more vague destinations in mind, but clearly defined landing points. Perhaps not exact GPS coordinates, but definitely instructions on how to get there. I also learnt (and am still learning) that change is a skill that requires practice. You can’t change overnight, it requires deliberate and consistent action in the right way and the right order, over time. Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent. As you would build on any skill, if you want to make a change, you have to practice getting better at making changes.

I still need to lose a significant amount of weight. I still need to get fitter and healthier. I still need to read and write more. However, I am currently following a healthy eating plan and have cut down significantly on my junk food intake (no small feat for me). I am exercising every day – almost miraculous considering where I was in the middle of the year. I have done a full edit of my first draft of the first novel I ever completed and plan to continue working on it in the new year, and I am ready to tackle the 52-book reading challenge this year. I have a schedule of when I write and I already know most of the books I will be reading to fulfil each category of the book challenge. See. Roadmap.

These sound a lot like resolutions and I guess they are, although I prefer to call them goals as they are long-term changes in mindset and not whimsical, vague ideas of transformation. To anyone looking to make genuine resolutions for 2019 I would recommend picking low hanging fruit. Pick something small, simple, and repeatable that you’re guaranteed to succeed at. It doesn’t matter what it is, it just matters that you succeed with it. This will help you to practice change. Master change first and then up the ante on what you’re trying to change.

My commitments for the year are as follows:

  • Treat days on Wednesdays and Sundays only.
  • Follow exercise programme from biokineticist.
  • Work on novel every day.
  • Work on blog Tuesdays and Fridays.
  • Read an average of one book per week.

I plan to post throughout the year on my goals and their progress. Please follow me on my journey – I welcome encouragement – and share yours with me. A prosperous 2019 to you and yours!