Book Review: The Soul’s Expression – A Study in Hysteria

The Soul's Expression.jpg

‘Your fear of sexual intimacy is a problem,’ he eventually says, his tone gentle.

‘And it is one, I think, I can help you with.’

‘By removing my reproductive organs?’ I ask, flicking my head towards the diagrams on his wall.

The Soul’s Expression (Locations 101-103)

The Plot

Katherine did what was expected of her. She married the man her parents deemed suitable. However, she could not do all that was expected of her.

After less than a year of marriage, Katherine is coerced to a doctor’s office, where she must admit the humiliating fact that she hasn’t shared her husband’s bed. She knows what the diagnosis will be and the degrading treatments women with hysteria are subject to. But with a judgemental mother-in-law in tow and an impatient husband at home, the choice is not hers.

Despite herself, she comes to trust the unusual and unconventional man treating her. And, when her increasingly volatile husband threatens to force from her that which she’s unable to give, she feels she must acquiesce to all of her doctor’s recommendations.

Swept up in a surge of self-discovery and sexual awakening, Katherine faces a new reason to be terrified. One she could never have imagined.

Writing Style

This book was an absolute pleasure to read. Ms. Alston has such an easy style of writing, where the language ebbs and flows, and draws you in deeper. I found it difficult to put this novel down, it completely monopolised my time. As a result, this was a very quick read. Though I’m not always a fan of first person narratives, I think that stylistically, first person was the right choice here. Many of the themes in the book are deeply personal and the first person narrative helped to highlight this for the characters.

I don’t think I found any errors in the text but this could also have been a result of the free flowing nature of the narrative, which leads the reader to simply correct errors without realising it. I was most concerned about the the fact that this story is set in the mid to late 19th century, and how Ms. Alston would try to write that into the direct speech and narrative, but she did this extremely well, without the characters coming across as too stiff or two-dimensional. The language was very formal at times, but appropriately so when thinking about the propriety required during that time. Reference to contemporary authors, music and other media from the period was done stylishly and didn’t feel contrived. I feel like the author either did a lot of research or knows this period very well.

“Lighting just one lamp, I place myself at the writing desk and unlock the drawer that contains David’s books and the diary he asked me keep. It is the diary I clasp between my fingers. I place it on the desk and open it to a blank page. It does not take any effort for a stream of sentences to tumble out. The thing preoccupying my mind; the thing that drowns out every other thought, is the way he touched me. The paroxysm itself was unexpected and astonishing. Yet, as I have longer to reflect on the morning’s appointment, I realise the rush of ecstasy was not the only pleasurable thing about it. Nor is it the only thing engaging my reminiscence.” (Locations 1453-1459)

“His other hand rises to my chin, wiping at the dampness he finds there. As he withdraws his fingers, I see they are stained with blood. Even though I have felt the pain, it is surreal to witness the evidence of my injury. And suddenly I understand why the hansom driver looked at me the way he did. His bloodied fingers clenching into a fist, David drops his gaze. With a shake of his head, he sweeps a clean towel from the couch.” (Locations 2016-2019)

The Review

Even though I enjoyed the book, there are a few things that I didn’t necessarily like or enjoy. The first being a pet peeve that I have with romance novels. I genuinely do not believe for a second that you can honest to goodness love someone after having known them for a week. You can be infatuated, enthralled and mooning over them but love comes with time. Love comes after the flash bang effect of all those chemicals in your brain telling you to spend every waking moment with your paramour. Other people might enjoy the whimsy of it but my cynical self sees a relationship doomed. A knock on effect of this was that the characters spent too much time basking in each other’s love and glory than is realistic. There was a fundamental shift is the tone of the book when Katherine and David declared their love for one another. The narrative became almost tepid and too mushy, despite the challenges that the characters were still dealing with (i.e. Katherine still begin married to a bastard addict, lying to the authorities about their affair. etc.). There was a lot of emphasis put on the characters trying to be responsible by not having sex due to pregnancy risk, but condoms were actually readily available during the period that the book is set it, and they were relatively cheap to the man in the street. Knowing this, this narrative device just became a vehicle for the new lovers to “miss” each other even more. It frustrated me intensely.

The second thing that I didn’t enjoy was Katherine’s seemingly perpetual speechlessness. The character started far too many sentences with a demur or shocked “I-I-I…”. Initially, this would be explained by her prim, proprietous nature and upbringing. Talking about sex, masturbation and other deeply person things with any person would have unnerved, and even offended, her. Later on though, it became annoying and made the character seem weak, and dare I say a little sniveling.

However, I appreciated that the author did not shy away form some very difficult topics. And that those were dealt with respectfully and compassionately, if not a little romanticised for the time period. I enjoyed the portrayal of women and the reality that they faced during the period. Katherine’s character was a great vehicle for this, and through the first person narrative, and thus her own thoughts, she enumerated the things that still bother many women today. The idea of having to be solely reliant on a man, any man, for your income, not having autonomy over your own body, the pressure to reproduce even if you aren’t yet sold of having children, and the utter feelings of defeat, helplessness and impotence to change any of those expectation. It was a duty to be fulfilled, and not questioned. All of these aspects were superbly portrayed and experience through Katherine’s eyes and mind, but she simply didn’t develop enough for me, as the narrative progressed.

This is a must read for romance, HEA lovers and I would further recommend it to readers who enjoy historical fiction.

My rating: 3/5

The Soul’s Expression is available from Amazon.

This review was requested by the author.

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